American Deathwish

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The American people are the captives of and resources for the drive by its aristocracy, of super-wealth and corporate power, to fulfill its supreme desire for ultimate temporal power: to be the gods of the Earth. This beyond trillion dollar, fossil-fueled, multi-megaton nuclear-armed power-trip can only achieve its grandest capitalistic orgasm by causing a catastrophic global climate change that will inevitably collapse civilization, and possibly cause the extinction of humanity. The obsession for and complicity with this drive is the American Deathwish.

Noam Chomsky described this unbelievable situation very clearly in recent comments about the Trump Administration, which were video-recorded. (https://youtu.be/uQvig0KvUaE). Here is my transcript of that video:

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From the point of view of US power, he’s harming it. But from the point of view of US elites, he’s giving them everything they want. I mean, in fact what’s going on in the United States, if you think about it, is a kind of two-level wrecking ball, if you want to call it that. Trump, his role – whether this is conscious or not, I don’t know – but you can see what’s happening. Trump’s role is to ensure that the media and that public attention are always concentrated on him. So every time you turn on a television set, it’s Trump; open the front page of the newspaper: Trump.

 

And in order to maintain – he’s a conman, basically a showman – and in order to maintain public attention you have to do something crazy, otherwise nobody is going to pay attention to you. If you do normal things you’ll be, you know, way back somewhere. So every day there’s one insane thing after another and then, you know, he makes some crazy lie: you know, he had the biggest crowd in history, or something, and the media looks at it and says “No, that wasn’t the biggest crowd.” But meanwhile he’s onto something else and then you go to that one.

 

And while this show is going on in public, in the background the wrecking crew is working. Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, the guys in the Cabinet who write his executive orders, what they’re doing is systematically dismantling every aspect of government that works for the benefit of the population. This goes from workers’ rights, to pollution of the environment, rules for protecting consumers, I mean, anything you can think of is being dismantled. And all efforts are being devoted, kind of almost with fanaticism, to enrich and empower their actual constituency, which is super-wealth and corporate power, who are delighted. That’s why the stock market goes up. The stock market has not much to do with the economy, but keeps booming because that’s the rich people, and they love being granted.

 

Now, the worst policies that he’s carried out, the most dangerous, are barely discussed. Those are the two existential threats that we face. We have to face the fact that humans are now in a situation which has never arisen in human history. This generation has to decide whether organized human existence is going to continue – and it’s not a joke. It’s global warming and nuclear war, those are the major issues. They ought to be big headlines every day. And Trump’s actions are making both of them much more dangerous.

 

In the case of nuclear war, the policies are significantly increasing the threat of nuclear war. In the case of global warming, it’s almost indescribable. Not only has the U.S. pulled out – uniquely alone in the world – it’s pulled out from the international efforts to do at least something about it. But, beyond that it’s – the Trump Administration is going out of its way to increase the threat. Look, listen to his State of the Union Address, the only phrase about global climate was to talk about “our beautiful clean coal,” the worst polluter there is, which we have 1,000 years of it, you know. And look at the new budget that’s coming out, sharply cuts research and support for any kind of renewable energy; more subsidies and support for the most polluting, destructive things.

 

And, it’s not just Trump, it’s the entire Republican leadership. So, if you look at the 2016 election, at the primaries, every single candidate, not a single exception, either denied that global warming is taking place or said “Maybe it is but we shouldn’t do anything about it,” which I think is worse. They were called the moderates, like Kasich. So then, and if you look at Trump himself, or say Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State, they know perfectly well that humans are causing global warming. In fact, Trump has golf courses all over; he hasn’t built a wall in Mexico yet but he’s building walls around his golf courses to make sure that the sea level doesn’t destroy them.

 

Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil – since the 1970s scientists at ExxonMobil have been – we now know, they been made public, forced to be made public – they’ve been producing severe warnings to the leadership about the effect of the use of petroleum on destroying the environment. So they all know about it but they’re not doing anything about it, which is a level of criminality that is almost hard to find words to describe. I mean, here are, you know, educated well-off rich people, upper elite, who know that what they’re doing is destroying the prospects for human – organized human life – and do it anyway because they make more profits tomorrow. Can you think of an analog for that in human history? I really can’t.

 

I mean, I’ve said sometimes, what’s considered an utterly outrageous comment, that today’s Republican Party is the most dangerous organization in human history. Sounds outrageous, but think about it for a moment. I mean, Hitler didn’t intend to destroy the prospects for human existence. Attila the Hun didn’t intend that, nobody has. But that’s what these guys intend. And it’s not ignorant, uneducated, you know, religious fundamentalists, whatever you want to blame people. These are the most educated, best supported people in the world. And they’re doing this eyes opened, because you make more profit tomorrow. It’s hard to imagine anything like it.

 

And it’s not just my opinion. Take, say, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists – the Doomsday Clock – famous Doomsday Clock that’s set up by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists since 1947. Each year they gather distinguished physicists, political analysts, others to look at the state of the world and make a judgment of how far we are from terminal disaster; midnight is terminal disaster. In 1947, the clock was at 7 minutes to midnight, that’s after the atom bomb, moved up and back since. Now it’s at the closest it’s been to midnight ever. They just moved it to 2 minutes to midnight, that’s where it was in 1953 when the U.S. and later the USSR exploded thermonuclear weapons which were, could totally destroy the world; so it went to 2 minutes. Now it’s back to 2 minutes, and that’s the Republican Party. That’s the ones who are running the country and dominating the world. There’s never been a situation like this.

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Thank you, Professor Chomsky.

So, why are the Trump Administration, the Republican Party, their sucker-fish flunkies clinging on in hopes of getting scraps, and the super-wealthy and corporate sponsors, patrons and owners of them all so driven to pursue this American Deathwish?

They are each compulsively working on immorally rational schemes for satisfying their obsessions to experience the euphoria of having supreme power and unrivaled wealth: to be able to lavish their senses with opulent materiality, exult their egos with an unlimited supply of utterly subservient slaves and with a complete absence of responsibility and legal liability, and to command the envy and fear of multitudes as the confirmation of their personal victories in gaining domination over the rest of humanity.

I can think of four factors that, either separately or in combination, could make up the psychology of the American Deathwish obsession: competitiveness, delusions of invulnerability, a sociopathic religious vision, and malevolent nihilism.

Competitiveness:

This is the fascination with racing: to “win the race” for the most goodies, for first place, for the most glory and attention, to get the “good stuff” before as many other people as possible, before the supplies run out, and to keep them for oneself ‘forever’ after, to be able to monopolize them and sell them at whatever price you want. This is the obsessive compulsion to kill the last rhinoceros to capture the last rhino horn, acing out everyone else in the entire world who wants it, so you can profit monumentally and also ever after be known as The One who got this unique prize, to forever exclusively possess the glory of being the ultimate winner of a race no one can ever run again, your victory ensuring the eternal loser status of every other would-be contender after you: you will have become a god.

Delusions of Invulnerability:

Imagining that power to resist fate, or bend it to your will, is granted by virtue of possessing great wealth. In human societies that deify money, individuals who possess and control great stores of it are effectively venerated as gods: superior beings who can “save” or “condemn” you “eternally,” so far as your lifetime is concerned. The higher such temporal monied godlets are elevated, the easier it is for them to imagine that they are shielded from life’s hazards, and so the easier it is for them to take more daring risks and more destructive self-aggrandizing actions, because the painful consequences of those risks and the destructiveness of those actions will fall entirely on an anonymous mass of powerless and impoverished people.

Sociopathic Religious Vision:

When people are their own gods, there is no consciousness of any connection to Nature and to the rest of humanity, whether as individuals or en masse. The way to deify yourself without being nagged or embarrassed by the realization of your all-consuming selfishness and egotism, and by the evident void of compassion and empathy that you have become, is to present yourself as a “saint,” a fully committed worshipper, devotee and follower of a “supreme being” in whose “true” religion you are a faithful member, ‘obeying’ His commands (which are always of benefit to you) and exerting yourself in community with your saintly cohorts – the elect – to enforce His will and prosecute His punishments on an erring, sinful, and darkly debased humanity. In this way you are preferentially deserving because of your intimate and favored connection with the Ultimate Authority. You are a minister in the court of the King of Kings. Hallelujah! Whatever the Supreme Being chooses to do, you are assured of getting the message first and of being most favored in the consequences of His exercise of supernatural power, even if cataclysmic.

Malevolent Nihilism:

Some members of the über elite will not be susceptible to religious delusions, but will be hard-as-nails materialists and even nihilists. One form of nihilism can be a complete indifference to everyone and everything; you just do whatever you want whenever you want without ever a concern for the consequences even as regards your own life and death. This variety of nihilism could almost be seen as similar to the happy-go-lucky attitude of an itinerant Zen Buddhist poet, or a ronin samurai, except that it lacks any compassion and empathy for others, any sense of responsibility, and any valuing of grace, refinement and elegance. A much more likely attitude for a nihilistic über elitist would be malevolence: the pleasure derived from the confirmation of their über elitist status, and the acclaim for their über elitist victories, that confirmation and acclaim being in the form of the evident massive sufferings of others, which are consequent to the achievement of those victories. “If Earth is doomed, and we’re all going to die, I might as well get everything I can out of it as I piss my defiance on all of existence.”

Are We Destined For Extinction by Loss of Soul?

People at any level of wealth, power and social status who lose their souls and are sucked into the cult of the American Deathwish (or its analogs elsewhere around the globe) are moral weaklings, even moral vacuums, invertebrates as regards character. They are zombies being led, as Gustave Flaubert put it, “by their materialism and their instinctive worship of power.”

Can the Captains Ahab of our ships-of-state, and the barons of our latifundias of capitalism, ever be morally reformed or rationally converted?, ever be dissuaded from harpooning the great White Whale of their feverish fantasies? Billions of us so dearly hope so, but I fear: no. Yet, our vision of a better and – so easily achievable – compassionate world demands that we continue to pursue all the conscionable avenues available to us to gain those moral reformations and rational conversions, because the only other alternative to end the mad pursuit of the American Deathwish is the equivalent of a French Revolution with 21st century weaponry, probably on a global scale. Such an explosion of bloody, terrifying, desperate and chaotic violence would in itself seem like the end of the world, and perhaps it will be, as the ripened fruit of the American Deathwish.

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Choosing Dignity During Climapocalypse

As industrialized civilization plows majestically forward towards its climapocalypse future created by the waste products trailed in the wake of its obsessive-compulsive fossil-fueled power-trip, guided by its delusional capitalist compass, an increasing number of establishment academics in the physical and social sciences are publicly announcing their utter despair about the likelihood for the continuation of the species homo sapiens beyond this century.

In an article earlier this year, Top Climate Scientist: Humans Will Go Extinct if We Don’t Fix Climate Change by 2023 (19 February 2018, https://gritpost.com/humans-extinct-climate-change/), Professor James Anderson opined that:

Climate change will wipe out all of humanity unless we stop using fossil fuels over the next five years. In a recent speech at the University of Chicago, James Anderson — a professor of atmospheric chemistry at Harvard University — warned that climate change is drastically pushing Earth back to the Eocene Epoch from 33 million BCE, when there was no ice on either pole. Anderson says current pollution levels have already catastrophically depleted atmospheric ozone levels, which absorb 98 percent of ultraviolet rays, to levels not seen in 12 million years. Anderson’s assessment of humanity’s timeline for action is likely accurate, given that his diagnosis and discovery of Antarctica’s ozone holes led to the Montreal Protocol of 1987. Anderson’s research was recognized by the United Nations in September of 1997. He subsequently received the United Nations Vienna Convention Award for Protection of the Ozone Layer in 2005, and has been recognized by numerous universities and academic bodies for his research.

In my previous article (https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/04/30/societal-death-or-transfiguration-cinema-visions-of-humanity-facing-extinction/) I quoted Mayer Hillman at length. Mayer Hillman is an 86-year-old social scientist, urban planner and senior fellow emeritus of the Policy Studies Institute in England, whose fundamental conclusion is (see The Guardian on 26 April 2018, https://amp.theguardian.com/environment/2018/apr/26/were-doomed-mayer-hillman-on-the-climate-reality-no-one-else-will-dare-mention):

“We’re doomed. — The outcome is death, and it’s the end of most life on the planet because we’re so dependent on the burning of fossil fuels. There are no means of reversing the process which is melting the polar ice caps.

So, what can we do individually, cooperatively and independently of the capitalist juggernaut to improve the prospects for our collective life and death on Planet Earth?

Idealistically, the best we might be able to do is to make our national and world societies fairer, more cooperative and more compassionate, so as to make the end-times (which I think are more likely to occur over a 200 year period) as “good” as we can manage; instead of uncooperatively and cruelly suffering the worst possible combinations of wars, refugee mass migrations-invasions, pandemics and natural catastrophes (e.g., violent weather, hurricanes, earthquakes) as the norm of humanity’s experience for decades to come.

Realistically, I don’t see humans having the capacity to cooperate globally to relinquish fossil fuels because combustion-based energy is the basis of economic power (capitalism) and military-political power (e.g., the US-DOD military-industrial complex, China, Russia, etc.).

I think it clear (based on acts versus talk during recent modern history) that the actual consensus of world opinion favors maintaining the hierarchies so individuals of all types can continue to contend to maintain their “rank” and try to advance it. This obsession ‘must’ continue forever (until our extinction), so there will never come a time when EVERYBODY agrees to transform world society (and by necessity their own little societies and even their own personalities and selves). Logically, I see no likelihood of a homo sapiens-wide rapid voluntary personal evolution and societal paradigm shift to world eco-socialism.

So, the best that the “willing volunteer eco-socialist segment of humanity” might be able to accomplish is to make humanity’s coming climapocalypse “less bad,” by helping to expand kinder social behaviors and societal policies (in the ideal extreme: ‘ending’ corruption, ‘ending’ authoritarianism, and normalizing democratic socialism), to reduce the extreme disparity between opulent selfishness and unconscionable suffering by the impoverished that exists now, and which disparity would otherwise expand.

There is so much greenhouse gas already in the climate-change pipeline that we are locked into continuing and accelerating climate change: a runaway train with no brakes. There is about a 30 year lag-time between new greenhouse gas/pollutants emission and their having GLOBAL climate-altering effects; today’s level of climate change is largely the effect of emissions prior to the 1990s!

Can that “willing volunteer eco-socialist segment of humanity” be vastly and quickly expanded into an overwhelming majority?

I always hope more people question and wonder, AND use critical thinking to study, read and learn more about important topics like climate change. This has motivated every word I’ve ever written on the subject. It just happens to be my observation that most people don’t do this. They get “bored” with factual, logical explanations of the science and the reality of climate change (and the reality of most everything else).

Technically speaking, there is much that could (should) be done to ameliorate the advancing stresses of climate change, but social-psychologically speaking it is the “mental inertia” of the masses and their “leaders” that is by far the most “hopeless” — and controlling — element in the entire human-geophysical complex called “climate change.” There is no physical law of nature that prohibits humanity from adapting, “evolving” to a new paradigm for world society in much greater balance with nature, but it is a simple fact they they haven’t, aren’t, and don’t seem inclined to do so in the future.

This is like a Greek Tragedy: the plot is clearly perceptible from the start but everyone continues implacably forward without alteration of their mindsets, so the tragic ending is programmed as the fate to be experienced. We are Titanics aimed straight at our icebergs with our eyes wide open, steaming at full speed ahead. A game theory (decision theory, Bayesian statistics example) abstraction of the whole mental-inertia dynamic described here is given by “The Prisoner’s Dilemma” (look it up).

However, it is also true that chaos erupts unexpectedly in our marvelously complex space-time-consciousness universe, and it is always (remotely) possible that we could experience future surprises in our benefit, which are logically unimaginable now.

In any case, it would be better to be guided by rational thought than by delusional hope for a quick-fix salvation from the workings of Nature, and to recognize that the best tools we have now for crafting a decent life-on-Earth and death-with-dignity for our species during the overwhelming climate change we are geophysically compelled to experience, are in the social dimensions rather than in any of our over-rated technological gimmickry.

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Societal Death or Transfiguration?, Cinema Visions of Humanity Facing Extinction

How should world society respond to the approach of human extinction compelled by implacable external forces, such as: radioactive fallout after a global nuclear war (as in Nevil Shute’s novel On the Beach), or an alien invasion by a species of technologically superior beings from outer space, or an impending collision between Earth and a massive planetoid, or (as seems most likely today) by runaway and irreversible Climate Change?

The general question has long been the seed for spinning out entertaining speculations in fantasy novels and science-fiction movies, but now it has become a serious matter of immediate concern for an increasing number of geo- and social- scientists and social planners. Mayer Hillman, an 86-year-old social scientist, urban planner and senior fellow emeritus of the Policy Studies Institute in England, says (in an article published by The Guardian on 26 April 2018, https://amp.theguardian.com/environment/2018/apr/26/were-doomed-mayer-hillman-on-the-climate-reality-no-one-else-will-dare-mention):

“We’re doomed. — The outcome is death, and it’s the end of most life on the planet because we’re so dependent on the burning of fossil fuels. There are no means of reversing the process which is melting the polar ice caps. And very few appear to be prepared to say so. — I’m not going to write anymore [about the projected consequences of runaway Climate Change] because there’s nothing more that can be said. — With doom ahead, making a case for cycling as the primary mode of transport [instead of automobiles] is almost irrelevant. — We’ve got to stop burning fossil fuels. So many aspects of life depend on fossil fuels, except for music and love and education and happiness. These things, which hardly use fossil fuels, are what we must focus on. [Hillman is amazed that our thinking rarely stretches beyond 2100 when discussing scientific predictions on the increase of average global temperature.] This is what I find so extraordinary when scientists warn that the temperature could rise to 5C or 8C. What?, and stop there? What legacies are we leaving for future generations? In the early 21st century, we did as good as nothing in response to Climate Change. Our children and grandchildren are going to be extraordinarily critical. — Even if the world went zero-carbon today that would not save us because we’ve gone past the point of no return. [Action by individuals to limit their ‘carbon footprint’ – their direct and indirect production of greenhouse gases is] as good as futile. [National action by the UK along the same lines is also irrelevant] because Britain’s contribution is minute. Even if the government were to go to zero-carbon it would make almost no difference. — [The world as a whole would have to go zero-carbon, but can that be done without the collapse of civilization?] I don’t think so. Can you see everyone in a democracy volunteering to give up flying? Can you see the majority of the population becoming vegan? Can you see the majority agreeing to restrict the size of their families? — Wealthy people will be better able to adapt but the world’s population will head to regions of the planet such as northern Europe which will be temporarily spared the extreme effects of climate change. How are these regions going to respond? We see it now. Migrants will be prevented from arriving. We will let them drown. — [Few scientific, political; and religious leaders have been honest with the public on all this, in order to protect their own positions] I don’t think they can [be forthright] because society isn’t organised to enable them to do so. Political parties’ focus is on jobs and GDP, depending on the burning of fossil fuels. — [Can the now obvious signs of advancing Climate Change spark an epiphany in humanity’s collective mind, and cause it to relinquish its ultimately self-destructive fossil fueled binge?] It depends on what we are prepared to do. Standing in the way is capitalism. Can you imagine the global airline industry being dismantled when hundreds of new runways are being built right now all over the world? It’s almost as if we’re deliberately attempting to defy nature. We’re doing the reverse of what we should be doing, with everybody’s silent acquiescence, and nobody’s batting an eyelid.”

Now, let us consider the 2017 American movie Downsizing, given this context.

Downsizing is an intelligent and, by American standards, subtle cinematic science-fiction social satire about the individual’s problem of securing sufficient wealth to comfortably sustain their lives in a secure cosmopolitan community for the duration of their lifespan. This movie was conceived by Alexander Payne and his writing partner Jim Taylor, and directed by Payne who has numerous successful movies to his credit: Election (1999), About Schmidt (2002), Sideways (2004), The Descendants (2011) and Nebraska (2013). Downsizing was not well-received by the majority of the viewing public because it is a film about ideas, thus requiring thinking for its enjoyment, as opposed to being a cinematic delivery vehicle for emotive sensations and jolting stimuli to provide passive unthinking viewers with 135 minutes of thrilling distraction.

The central pit in Downsizing, around which the screenplay and the screenwriters’ implied social commentaries have been grown like the flesh of a stone-fruit, is that science has discovered a process for harmlessly shrinking living cells and organisms, enabling humans to be reduced to Lilliputian size so that their existing savings and equity in the “big world” can economically sustain them in lifetimes of luxury in the “small world,” because their “ecological footprints” – both for consumption and waste production – have been miniaturized. The attraction for “getting small” is basically a get-rich-quick scheme leading to an endlessly sustainable high-life coupled with the pleasurable sense of eliminating one’s big-world guilt over contributing to Climate Change and the environmental degradation of the planet, which is caused by its “overpopulation” with “big” capitalist-minded, wasteful and exploitative people. In brief: having it all.

The problem with making an expensive ($68M) artful cinematic work whose purpose is to stimulate thoughtful societal awareness – if you want to recoup your investment – is that you have to market it successfully to the masses of cinema-viewing yahoos. Downsizing was released on 22 December 2017, and as of 1 February 2018 (its theatrical closing) had only grossed $55M. It just didn’t hit the yahoo g-spot, and they hated it for boring them.

The “lesson” in the screenplay of Downsizing, which was delivered in a clear sedately-paced and understated way (which I like), is that the solution for achieving fulfilling individual lives in peaceful and comforting societies is for the people of such would-be societies to take care of one another: popular humanitarian socialism. Regardless of whether a society enjoys being situated in a natural or artificial paradise and is economically secure, or whether it is environmentally and economically stressed and doomed to extinction, the best that it can ever be for all of its inhabitants during its duration is entirely the result of its peoples’ commitment to construct mutually fulfilling lives of cooperation and compassion, instead of seeking to escape – from the masses of the less fortunate – into exclusive refuges and redoubts of enclosed privilege to continue with lives of egotistical self-centeredness and selfish indifference.

This message is ancient. It was part of the Buddha’s “Triple Jewel” teaching to his disciples and fellow monks and nuns (the Sangha), to ‘take care of one another’:

I will go to the Buddha for refuge.
I will go to the Dharma [the teachings of Buddha; the Buddhist way of life] for refuge.
I will go to the Sangha [harmonious community] for refuge.

The Buddhist sense of ‘taking refuge’ expressed here is not a running away from the rest of the world, but a commitment for living a truer life within it, based on Buddhist precepts.

There have been many book and movie stories centered on the idea of: individual fulfillment found through mutual help for securing group survival if possible, versus seeking individual escape from group peril, and from guilt over abandoning responsibility. Three such stories that came to my mind while pondering the movie Downsizing were the films: Lost Horizon (1937), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), and Zardoz (1974).

Lost Horizon is Frank Capra’s film of the James Hilton fantasy novel about Shangri-La: a fabulous and peaceful Buddhist-style refuge from modern society and its torments, situated in a life-extending green valley that is hidden within the otherwise frigid and snowy expanse of the high Himalayas. But, can Shangri-La truly be an escape?

The Day the Earth Stood Still is Robert Wise’s movie of Edmund H. North’s screenplay of Harry Bates’s story of an alien ambassador, Klaatu, and his all-powerful robot, Gort (with a heat-ray beam-weapon dematerializer), who arrive in a Flying Saucer to deliver a message to humanity from an alien Federation of Planets: live peacefully on Earth and join our Federation as an independent planet, but do not militarize space with your rockets and nuclear bombs, because we would take that as a mortal threat and then our space-patrolling robot police, like Gort, would “reduce your Earth to a burned-out cinder.” Humanity’s escape to the good life, which is offered in this movie fantasy, would be achieved by forsaking war-making in all its forms to instead gain the advanced knowledge and technology of Klaatu’s interplanetary civilization, and that technology would vastly enhance the quality-of-life of the popular humanistic socialism that humanity would have to adopt as its new social paradigm.

Zardoz is John Boorman’s film about a far future post-apocalyptic immiscibly stratified static society that is suddenly ruptured by violence against its tiny elite, which results in a complete blending of humanity and a rebirth of human evolution. The Eternals are non-aging humans who live in a paradisal community, the Vortex, bubbled from the external misery by invisible force fields, and containing advanced endlessly-fueled hidden technology that automatically maintains the Eternals’ unending and idyllic existences. All the fruits of humanity’s previous achievements are now maintained in the Vortex, but the Eternals are all bored with their immortal lives of effortless omniscience and leisure. The vast expanse of the Outlands beyond the Vortex is a wasteland inhabited by the Brutals, people reduced to being isolated dumb animals without any civilization or social cohesion, scrounging through the wreckage of the previous world for each individual’s survival. Among the Brutals is a horse-riding semi-organized militia of enforcers, the Exterminators, who receive guns from Zardoz, a god in the form of a huge flying stone head that orders the Exterminators to enslave defenseless Brutals into chain-gangs to perform rudimentary agricultural labor, or other such work as mining, as might be required to supply the Vortex with what its denizens desire. The Exterminators punish any infraction and every failure by a Brutal – however trivial – with instant death by gunfire. The Exterminators, all men, also exult in their power and preference by their god, Zardoz, by freely raping and pillaging among the Brutals. Zardoz tells them: “The gun is good.” It is the hobby and amusement of Arthur Frayn, one of the Eternals, to carry on the charade of being Zardoz (piloting the stone head, and supplying the Exterminators with commands and cascades of firearms). It happens that through an instance of Arthur Frayn’s carelessness one of the Exterminators, Zed, manages to get into the Vortex and once there evolves despite an oppressive captivity, from Brutal ignorance to Eternal knowledge, and this leads to the complete and violent death of Vortex society, and transfiguration of humanity. The movie Zardoz is a dark – black – analog to the much gentler if still subtly sharp Downsizing.

The essential lesson of responding to the approach of a destructive inevitability beyond your society’s power is to engage in compassionate cooperation to make your society as good as it can be for as long as you and it can be made to last, and to find your life’s fulfillment in doing so.

This idea is captured visually so simply in the last moments of Downsizing that it remains invisible to the majority of the viewing public. And so our fractious collectivity cruises onward, untrammeled, towards its willfully unexpected collision with fate.

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Societal Death or Transfiguration?, Cinema Visions of Humanity Facing Extinction
30 April 2017
https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/04/30/societal-death-or-transfiguration-cinema-visions-of-humanity-facing-extinction/

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Of related interest:

The Righteous And The Heathens of Climate And Capitalism
12 March 2012
http://www.swans.com/library/art18/mgarci43.html

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The Atlantic Overturning Current Is Slowing

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The Atlantic Overturning Current Is Slowing

The Atlantic Overturning Current is part of a worldwide twisted loop of ocean water, called the thermohaline cycle (thermo = heat, haline = salt), which emerges very salty and warm out of the Gulf of Mexico, travels north as a surface current along the east coast of North America, veers east in the North Atlantic toward Europe, then loops back west to a region just south of Greenland where it cools and sinks to the ocean floor – because it has become denser than the surrounding and less salty North Atlantic waters (colder water is denser than warmer water, and saltier water is denser than fresher water of equal temperature). The dense highly salted descending water then runs as a cold deep ocean current south along the east coast of South America, and continues in a complicated path along the ocean floor into the Pacific Ocean, where it warms and eventually rises to become a surface current of more buoyant less salty water. This current distributes solar heat collected by ocean waters in tropical latitudes to higher latitudes (closer to the poles).

In 2004, Peter Schwartz and Douglas Randall described the thermohaline cycle this way: “In this thousand-year cycle, water from the surface in tropical areas becomes more saline through evaporation. When it circulates to the poles and becomes cold (“thermo”), the greater density still present from higher salt (“haline”) concentration causes the water to sink to great depths. As with most large-scale geological processes, the thermohaline cycle is not thoroughly understood. Wallace Broecker has been studying the cycle for decades and, according to the December 1996 issue of Discover magazine, he has shown that the thermohaline cycle has not always been in operation, and that it has a strong effect on global climate.”

In 2003-2004, the US Department of Defense commissioned a secret study of what might be the worst possible effects of Global Warming triggering an “abrupt climate change” in the near future, in order to estimate the potential liabilities that military planning would have to consider (to maintain US security, and global power). This study was conducted during the climate-change-denying George W. Bush Administration. When the existence of the resulting report, produced by independent researchers Peter Schwartz and Douglas Randall, became publicly known there was such a public outcry (bad PR for the DOD) that the report was declassified and made publicly available.

The Schwartz-Randall report pointed to the abrupt onset of a significantly colder, dryer climate in the Northern Hemisphere as the most perilous possible consequence of Global Warming up to about 2010, because such warming (the trapping of incoming solar radiation and outgoing infrared radiation from the land and oceans, by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere) might cause the thermohaline cycle to stop. How? Global Warming causes glaciers and ice caps to melt, and such fresh (unsalted) meltwater from Greenland floods into the North Atlantic where the thermohaline current dives to the ocean floor. This fresh surface water dilutes the high salinity of the presently descending thermohaline current, making its waters less dense (less heavy) and so less likely to sink. Sufficient freshening of the thermohaline current would cause it to stop entirely, shutting off this global conveyor belt of climate-regulating oceanic solar heat.

Though abrupt climate change is a less likely and worst case scenario as compared to gradual climate change, Schwartz and Randall concluded that such an occurrence would “challenge United States national security in ways that should be considered immediately.” The climatic cooling that might occur in the Northern Hemisphere as a result of a collapse of the thermohaline cycle could be like the century-long period 8,200 years ago with temperature 5 °F (2.8 °C) colder, or the 13 century-long period 12,700 years ago with temperature 27 °F (15 °C) colder. The shift to colder climate could occur as rapidly as 5 °F (2.8 °C) of cooling per decade. So, the world could plunge into a new Ice Age within a period of twenty years. In their 2004 report, Schwartz and Randall showed data on the salinity of the North Atlantic since 1960; the trend was a steady freshening. (I wrote about the above in an article for the Internet, in July 2004).

A 2015 scientific publication of new observations on the “Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation” (the Atlantic part of our thermohaline cycle) concluded that “the melting Greenland ice sheet is likely disturbing the circulation.” The Phys.org news article (https://phys.org/news/2015-03-atlantic-ocean-overturning-today.html) about this study [Rahmstorf, S., Box, J., Feulner, G., Mann, M., Robinson, A., Rutherford, S., Schaffernicht, E. (2015): “Evidence for an exceptional 20th-Century slowdown in Atlantic Ocean overturning.” Nature Climate Change (the journal)] concluded:

“The scientists certainly do not expect a new ice age, thus the imagery of the ten-year-old Hollywood blockbuster ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ is far from reality. However, it is well established that a large, even gradual change in Atlantic ocean circulation could have major negative effects. ‘If the slowdown of the Atlantic overturning continues, the impacts might be substantial,’ says Rahmstorf. ‘Disturbing the circulation will likely have a negative effect on the ocean ecosystem, and thereby fisheries and the associated livelihoods of many people in coastal areas. A slowdown also adds to the regional sea-level rise affecting cities like New York and Boston. Finally, temperature changes in that region can also influence weather systems on both sides of the Atlantic, in North America as well as Europe.’ If the circulation weakens too much it can even break down completely – the Atlantic overturning has for long been considered a possible tipping element in the Earth System. This would mean a relatively rapid and hard-to-reverse change.”

On April 11, 2018, an article titled “Stronger evidence for a weaker Atlantic overturning” appeared at Phys.org (https://phys.org/news/2018-04-stronger-evidence-weaker-atlantic-overturning.html). This article notes:

“The Atlantic overturning—one of Earth’s most important heat transport systems, pumping warm water northward and cold water southward—is weaker today than any time before in more than 1000 years. Sea surface temperature data analysis provides new evidence that this major ocean circulation has slowed down by roughly 15 percent since the middle of the 20th century, according to a study published in the highly renowned journal Nature by an international team of scientists. Human-made climate change is a prime suspect for these worrying observations. There have been long debates whether the Atlantic overturning could collapse, being a tipping element in the Earth system. The present study does not consider the future fate of this circulation, but rather analyses how it has changed over the past hundred years. Nevertheless, Robinson cautions: ‘If we do not rapidly stop global warming, we must expect a further long-term slowdown of the Atlantic overturning. We are only beginning to understand the consequences of this unprecedented process—but they might be disruptive.’ Several studies have shown, for example, that a slowdown of the Atlantic overturning exacerbates sea-level rise on the US coast for cities like New York and Boston. Others show that the associated change in Atlantic sea surface temperatures affects weather patterns over Europe, such as the track of storms coming off the Atlantic. Specifically, the European heat wave of summer 2015 has been linked to the record cold in the northern Atlantic [caused by the inflow of cold Greenland meltwater] in that year—this seemingly paradoxical effect occurs because a cold northern Atlantic promotes an air pressure pattern that funnels warm air from the south into Europe.”

While the scientists are not being alarmist Jeremiahs and warning of an imminent climapocalypse as depicted in the Hollywood movie “The Day After Tomorrow,” they nevertheless make it clear that if this Global Warming caused (fossil-fuel-burning human caused) slowing of the thermohaline cycle continues to the point of a dead stop, then this would likely be a tipping point of the entire Earth System of climate leading to “a relatively rapid and hard-to-reverse change” — not for the better.

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Thirsty Invaders, Chasing Heat
19 July 2004
Manuel García, Jr.
http://www.swans.com/library/art10/mgarci18.html

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Now appearing at Counterpunch:

An Oceanic Problem: the Atlantic Overturning Current is Slowing
13 April 2017
https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/04/13/an-oceanic-problem-the-atlantic-overturning-current-is-slowing/

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Schwartz-Randall report
http://stephenschneider.stanford.edu/Publications/PDF_Papers/SchwartzRandall2004.pdf

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The Atlantic Overturning Current Is Slowing
20 April 2018
https://dissidentvoice.org/2018/04/the-atlantic-overturning-current-is-slowing/

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The Obvious Paradigm

Solar Powered Desalinator, homemade

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The Obvious Paradigm

The American consensus: a demise under capitalism is preferable to a continuation under socialism.

Fracking has made coal mining unnecessary. The upkeep of nuclear wastes makes nuclear power pointless. GPS guided missile technology makes nuclear weapons obsolete. The abundance of freely available solar energy and the great expanse of publicly held sunny lands makes privately metered and polluting fossil-fuel energy unnecessary, both for the power and as an expense. Fossil fuel energy is only necessary for the maintenance of militarism, and only for those who consider militarism necessary. Global warming is Earth’s fever from its infection with fossil-fueled capitalism. Solar-powered socialism is the obvious paradigm for a just and prosperous humanity in balance with Nature.

9 January 2018

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The Thermodynamics of 9-11

When hijacked airliners crashed into the tall Towers of the World Trade Center, in New York City [on 11 September 2001], each injected a burning cloud of aviation fuel throughout the 6 levels (WTC 2) to 8 levels (WTC 1) in the impact zone. The burning fuel ignited the office furnishings: desks, chairs, shelving, carpeting, work-space partitions, wall and ceiling panels; as well as paper and plastic of various kinds.

How did these fires progress? How much heat could they produce? Was this heat enough to seriously weaken the steel framework? How did this heat affect the metal in the rubble piles in the weeks and months after the collapse? This report is motivated by these questions, and it will draw ideas from thermal physics and chemistry. My previous report on the collapses of the WTC Towers described the role of mechanical forces (1).

Summary of National Institute of Technology and Standards (NIST) Report

Basic facts about the WTC fires of 9/11/01 are abstracted by the numerical quantities tabulated here.

Table 1, Time and Energy of WTC Fires

ITEM                              WTC 1           WTC 2
impact time (a.m.)          8:46:30          9:02:59
collapse (a.m.)               10:28:22        9:58:59
time difference               1:41:52          0:56:00
impact zone levels          92-99            78-83
levels in upper block       11                 27
heat rate (40 minutes)     2 GW            1 GW
total heat energy             8000 GJ       3000 GJ

Tower 1 stood for one hour and forty-two minutes after being struck between levels 92 and 99 by an airplane; the block above the impact zone had 11 levels. During the first 40 minutes of this time, fires raged with an average heat release rate of 2 GW (GW = giga watts = 10^9 watts), and the total heat energy released during the interval between airplane impact and building collapse was 8000 GJ (GJ = giga-joules = 10^9 joules).

A joule is a unit of energy; a watt is a unit of power; and one watt equals an energy delivery rate of one joule per second.

Tower 2 stood for fifty-six minutes after being struck between levels 78 and 83, isolating an upper block of 27 levels. The fires burned at a rate near 1 GW for forty minutes, diminishing later; and a total of 3000 GJ of heat energy was released by the time of collapse.

WTC 2 received half as much thermal energy during the first 40 minutes after impact, had just over twice the upper block mass, and fell within half the time than was observed for WTC 1. It would seem that WTC 1 stood longer despite receiving more thermal energy because its upper block was less massive.

The data in Table 1 are taken from the executive summary of the fire safety investigation by NIST (2).

The NIST work combined materials and heat transfer lab experiments, full-scale tests (wouldn’t you like to burn up office cubicles?), and computer simulations to arrive at the history and spatial distribution of the burning. From this, the thermal histories of all the metal supports in the impact zone were calculated (NIST is very thorough), which in turn were used as inputs to the calculations of stress history for each support. Parts of the structure that were damaged or missing because of the airplane collision were accounted for, as was the introduction of combustible mass by the airplane.

Steel loses strength with heat. For the types of steel used in the WTC Towers (plain carbon, and vanadium steels) the trend is as follows, relative to 100% strength at habitable temperatures.

Table 2, Fractional Strength of Steel at Temperature

Temperature, degrees C      Fractional Strength, %
200                                     86
400                                     73
500                                     66
600                                     43
700                                     20
750                                     15
800                                     10

I use C for Centigrade, F for Fahrenheit, and do not use the degree symbol in this report.

The fires heated the atmosphere in the impact zone (a mixture of gases and smoke) to temperatures as high as 1100 C (2000 F). However, there was a wide variation of gas temperature with location and over time because of the migration of the fires toward new sources of fuel, a complicated and irregular interior geometry, and changes of ventilation over time (e.g., more windows breaking). Early after the impact, a floor might have some areas at habitable temperatures, and other areas as hot as the burning jet fuel, 1100 C. Later on, after the structure had absorbed heat, the gas temperature would vary over a narrower range, approximately 200 C to 700 C away from centers of active burning.

As can be seen from Table 2, steel loses half its strength when heated to about 570 C (1060 F), and nearly all once past 700 C (1300 F). Thus, the structure of the impact zone, with a temperature that varies between 200 C and 700 C near the time of collapse, will only have between 20% to 86% of its original strength at any location.

The steel frames of the WTC Towers were coated with “sprayed fire resistant materials” (SFRMs, or simply “thermal insulation”). A key finding of the NIST Investigation was that the thermal insulation coatings were applied unevenly — even missing in spots — during the construction of the buildings, and — fatally — that parts of the coatings were knocked off by the jolt of the airplane collisions.

Spraying the lumpy gummy insulation mixture evenly onto a web of structural steel, assuming it all dries properly and none is banged off while work proceeds at a gigantic construction site over the course of several years, is an unrealistic expectation. Perhaps this will change, as a “lesson learned” from the disaster. The fatal element in the WTC Towers story is that enough of the thermal insulation was banged off the steel frames by the airplane jolts to allow parts of frames to heat up to 700 C. I estimate the jolts at 136 times the force of gravity at WTC 1, and 204 at WTC 2.

The pivotal conclusion of the NIST fire safety investigation is perhaps best shown on page 32, in Chapter 3 of Volume 5G of the Final Report (NIST NCSTAR 1-5G WTC Investigation), which includes a graph from which I extracted the data in Table 2, and states the following two paragraphs. (The NIST authors use the phrase “critical temperature” for any value above about 570 C, when steel is below half strength.)

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“As the insulation thickness decreases from 1 1/8 in. to 1/2 in., the columns heat up quicker when subjected to a constant radiative flux. At 1/2 in. the column takes approximately 7,250 s (2 hours) to reach a critical temperature of 700 C with a gas temperature of 1,100 C. If the column is completely bare (no fireproofing) then its temperature increases very rapidly, and the critical temperature is reached within 350 s. For a bare column, the time to reach a critical temperature of 700 C ranges between 350 to 2,000 s.

“It is noted that the time to reach critical temperature for bare columns is less than the one hour period during which the buildings withstood intense fires. Core columns that have their fireproofing intact cannot reach a critical temperature of 600 C during the 1 or 1 1/2 hour period. (Note that WTC 1 collapsed in approximately 1 1/2 hour, while WTC 2 collapsed in approximately 1 hour). This implies that if the core columns played a role in the final collapse, some fireproofing damage would be required to result in thermal degradation of its strength.” (3)

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Collapse

Airplane impact sheared columns along one face and at the building’s core. Within minutes, the upper block had transferred a portion of its weight from central columns in the impact zone, across a lateral support at the building crown called the “hat truss,” and down onto the three intact outer faces. Over the course of the next 56 minutes (WTC 2) and 102 minutes (WTC 1) the fires in the impact zone would weaken the remaining central columns, and this steadily increased the downward force exerted on the intact faces. The heat-weakened frames of the floors sagged, and this bowed the exterior columns inward at the levels of the impact zone. Because of the asymmetry of the damage, one of the three intact faces took up much of the mounting load. Eventually, it buckled inward and the upper block fell. (1)

Now, let’s explore heat further.

How Big Were These Fires?

I will approximate the size of a level (1 story) in each of the WTC Towers as a volume of 16,080 m^3 with an area of 4020 m^2 and a height of 4 m (4). Table 3 shows several ways of describing the total thermal energy released by the fires.

Table 3, Magnitude of Thermal Energy in Equivalent Weight of TNT

ITEM                                  WTC 1              WTC 2
energy (Q)                          8000 GJ           3000 GJ
# levels                              8                       6
tons of TNT                       1912                 717
tons/level                           239                  120
lb/level                               478,000           239,000
kg/m^2 (impact floors)       54                    27
lb/ft^2 (impact floors)         11                    6

The fires in WTC 1 released an energy equal to that of an explosion of 1.9 kilotons of TNT; the energy equivalent for WTC 2 is 717 tons. Obviously, an explosion occurs in a fraction of a second while the fires lasted an hour or more, so the rates of energy release were vastly different. Even so, this comparison may sharpen the realization that these fires could weaken the framework of the buildings significantly.

How Hot Did The Buildings Become?

Let us pretend that the framework of the building is made of “ironcrete,” a fictitious mixture of 72% iron and 28% concrete. This framework takes up 5.4% of the volume of the building, the other 94.6% being air. We assume that everything else in the building is combustible or an inert material, and the combined mass and volume of these are insignificant compared to the mass and volume of ironcrete. I arrived at these numbers by estimating volumes and cross sectional areas of metal and concrete in walls and floors in the WTC Towers.

The space between floors is under 4 meters; and the floors include a layer of concrete about 1/10 meter thick. The building’s horizontal cross-section was a 63.4 meter square. Thus, the gap between floors was nearly 1/10 of the distance from the center of the building to its periphery. Heat radiated by fires was more likely to become trapped between floors, and stored within the concrete floor pans, than it was to radiate through the windows or be carried out through broken windows by the flow of heated air. We can estimate a temperature of the framework, assuming that all the heat became stored in it.

The amount of heat that can be stored in a given amount of matter is a property specific to each material, and is called heat capacity. The ironcrete mixture would have a volumetric heat capacity of Cv = 2.8*10^6 joules/(Centigrade*m^3); (* = multiply). In the real buildings, the large area of the concrete pads would absorb the heat from the fires and hold it, since concrete conducts heat very poorly. The effect is to bath the metal frame with heat as if it were in an oven or kiln. Ironcrete is my homogenization of materials to simplify this numerical example.

The quantity of heat energy Q absorbed within a volume V of material with a volumetric heat capacity Cv, whose temperature is raised by an amount dT (for “delta-T,” a temperature difference) is Q = Cv*V*dT. We can solve for dT. Here, V = (870 m^3)*(# levels); also dT(1) corresponds to WTC 1, and dT(2) corresponds to WTC 2.

dT(1) = (8 x 10^12)/[(2.8 x 10^6)*(870)*8] = 410 C,

dT(2) = (3 x 10^12)/[(2.8 x 10^6)*(870)*6] = 205 C.

Our simple model gives a reasonable estimate of an average frame temperature in the impact zone. The key parameter is Q (for each building). NIST spent considerable effort to arrive at the Q values shown in Table 3 (3). Our model gives a dT comparable to the NIST results because both calculations deposit the same energy into about the same amount of matter. Obviously, the NIST work accounts for all the details, which is necessary to arrive at temperatures and stresses that are specific to every location over the course of time. Our equation of heat balance Q = Cv*V*dT is an example of the conservation of energy, a fundamental principle of physics.

Well, Can The Heat Weaken The Steel Enough?

On this, one either believes or one doesn’t believe. Our simple example shows that the fires could heat the frames into the temperature range NIST calculates. It seems entirely reasonable that steel in areas of active and frequent burning would experience greater heating than the averages estimated here, so hotspots of 600 C to 700 C seem completely believable. Also, the data for WTC Towers steel strength at elevated temperatures is not in dispute. I believe NIST; answer: yes.

Let us follow time through a sequence of thermal events.

Fireball

The airplanes hurtling into the buildings with speeds of at least 200 m/s (450 mph) fragmented into exploding torrents of burning fuel, aluminum and plastic. Sparks generated from the airframe by metal fracture and impact friction ignited the mixture of fuel vapor and air. This explosion blew out windows and billowed burning fuel vapor and spray throughout the floors of the impact zone, and along the stairwells and elevator shafts at the center of the building; burning liquid fuel poured down the central shafts. Burning vapor, bulk liquid and droplets ignited most of what they splattered upon. The intense infrared radiation given off by the 1100 C (2000 F) flames quickly ignited nearby combustibles, such as paper and vinyl folders. Within a fraction of a second, the high pressure of the detonation wave had passed, and a rush of fresh air was sucked in through window openings and the impact gash, sliding along the tops of the floors toward the centers of intense burning.

Hot exhaust gases: carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), water vapor (H2O), soot (carbon particles), unburned hydrocarbons (combinations with C and H), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), and particles of pulverized solids vented up stairwells and elevator shafts, and formed thick hot layers underneath floors, heating them while slowly edging toward the openings along the building faces. Within minutes, the aviation fuel was largely burned off, and the oxygen in the impact zone depleted.

Thermal Storage

Fires raged throughout the impact zone in an irregular pattern dictated by the interplay of the blast wave with the distribution of matter. Some areas had intense heating (1100 C), while others might still be habitable (20 C). The pace of burning was regulated by the area available for venting the hot exhaust gases, and the area available for the entry of fresh air. Smoke was cleared from the impact gash by air entering as the cycle of flow was established. The fires were now fueled by the contents of the buildings.

Geometrically, the cement floors had large areas and were closely spaced. They intercepted most of the infrared radiation emitted in the voids between them, and they absorbed heat (by conduction) from the slowly moving (“ventilation limited”) layer of hot gases underneath each of them. Concrete conducts heat poorly, but can hold a great deal of it. The metal reinforcing bars within concrete, as well as the metal plate underneath the concrete pad of each WTC Towers floor structure, would tend to even out the temperature distribution gradually.

This process of “preheating the oven” would slowly raise the average temperature in the impact zone while narrowing the range of extremes in temperature. Within half an hour, heat had penetrated to the interior of the concrete, and the temperature everywhere in the impact zone was between 200 C and 700 C, away from sites of active burning.

Thermal Decomposition — “Cracking”

Fire moved through the impact zone by finding new sources of fuel, and burning at a rate limited by the ventilation, which changed over time.

Heat within the impact zone “cracks” plastic into a sequence of decreasingly volatile hydrocarbons, similar to the way heat separates out an array of hydrocarbon fuels in the refining of crude oil. As plastic absorbs heat and begins to decompose, it emits hydrocarbon vapors. These may flare if oxygen is available and their ignition temperatures are reached. Also, plumes of mixed hydrocarbon vapor and oxygen may detonate. So, a random series of small explosions might occur during the course of a large fire.

Plastics not designed for use in high temperature may resemble soft oily tar when heated to 400 C. The oil in turn might release vapors of ethane, ethylene, benzene and methane (there are many hydrocarbons) as the temperature climbs further. All these products might begin to burn as the cracking progresses, because oxygen is present and sources of ignition (hotspots, burning embers, infrared radiation) are nearby. Soot is the solid end result of the sequential volatilization and burning of hydrocarbons from plastic. Well over 90% of the thermal energy released in the WTC Towers came from burning the normal contents of the impact zones.

Hot Aluminum

Aluminum alloys melt at temperatures between 475 C and 640 C, and molten aluminum was observed pouring out of WTC 2 (5). Most of the aluminum in the impact zone was from the fragmented airframe; but many office machines and furniture items can have aluminum parts, as can moldings, fixtures, tubing and window frames. The temperatures in the WTC Towers fires were too low to vaporize aluminum; however, the forces of impact and explosion could have broken some of the aluminum into small granules and powder. Chemical reactions with hydrocarbon or water vapors might have occurred on the surfaces of freshly granulated hot aluminum.

The most likely product of aluminum burning is aluminum oxide (Al2O3, “alumina”). Because of the tight chemical bonding between the two aluminum atoms and three oxygen atoms in alumina, the compound is very stable and quite heat resistant, melting at 2054 C and boiling at about 3000 C. The affinity of aluminum for oxygen is such that with enough heat it can “burn” to alumina when combined with water, releasing hydrogen gas from the water,

2*Al + 3*H2O + heat -> Al2O3 + 3*H2.

Water is introduced into the impact zone through the severed plumbing at the building core, moisture from the outside air, and it is “cracked” out of the gypsum wall panels and to a lesser extent from concrete (the last two are both hydrated solids). Water poured on an aluminum fire can be “fuel to the flame.”

When a mixture of aluminum powder and iron oxide powder is ignited, it burns to iron and aluminum oxide,

Al + Fe2O3 + ignition -> Al2O3 + Fe.

This is thermite. The reaction produces a temperature that can melt steel (above 1500 C, 2800 F). The rate of burning is governed by the pace of heat diffusion from the hot reaction zone into the unheated powder mixture. Granules must absorb sufficient heat to arrive at the ignition temperature of the process. The ignition temperature of a quiescent powder of aluminum is 585 C. The ignition temperatures of a variety of dusts were found to be between 315 C and 900 C, by scientists developing solid rocket motors. Burning thermite is not an accelerating chain reaction (“explosion”), it is a “sparkler.” My favorite reference to thermite is in the early 1950s motion picture, “The Thing.”

Did patches of thermite form naturally, by chance, in the WTC Towers fires? Could there really have been small bits of melted steel in the debris as a result? Could there have been “thermite residues” on pieces of steel dug out of the debris months later? Maybe, but none of this leads to a conspiracy. If the post-mortem “thermite signature” suggested that a mass of thermite comparable to the quantities shown in Table 3 was involved, then further investigation would be reasonable. The first task of such an investigation would be to produce a “chemical kinetics” model of the oxidation of the fragmented aluminum airframe, in some degree of contact to the steel framing, in the hot atmosphere of hydrocarbon fires in the impact zone. Once Nature had been eliminated as a suspect, one could proceed to consider Human Malevolence.

Smoldering Rubble

Nature is endlessly creative. The deeper we explore, the more questions we come to realize.

Steel columns along a building face, heated to between 200 C and 700 C, were increasingly compressed and twisted into a sharpening bend. With increasing load and decreasing strength over the course of an hour or more, the material became unable to rebound elastically, had the load been released. The steel entered the range of plastic deformation, it could still be stretched through a bend, but like taffy it would take on a permanent set. Eventually, it snapped.

Months later, when this section of steel would be dug out of the rubble pile, would the breaks have the fluid look of a drawn out taffy, or perhaps “melted” steel now frozen in time? Or, would these be clean breaks, as edge glass fragments; or perhaps rough, granular breaks as through concrete?

The basements of the WTC Towers included car parks. After the buildings collapsed, it is possible that gasoline fires broke out, adding to the heat of the rubble. We can imagine many of the effects already described, to have occurred in hot pockets within the rubble pile. Water percolating down from that sprayed by the Fire Department might carry air down also, and act as an oxidizing agent.

The tight packing of the debris from the building, and the randomization of its materials would produce a haphazard and porous form of ironcrete aggregate: chunks of steel mixed with broken and pulverized concrete, with dust-, moisture-, and fume-filled gaps. Like a pyramid of barbecue briquettes, the high heat capacity and low thermal conductivity of the rubble pile would efficiently retain its heat.

Did small hunks of steel melt in rubble hot spots that had just the right mix of chemicals and heat? Probably unlikely, but certainly possible.

Pulverized concrete would include that from the impact zone, which may have had part of its water driven off by the heat. If so, such dust would be a desiccating substance (as is Portland cement prior to use; concrete is mixed sand, cement and water). Part of the chronic breathing disorders experienced by many people exposed to the atmosphere at the World Trade Center during and after 9/11/01 may be due to the inhalation of desiccating dust, now lodged in lung tissue.

Did the lingering hydrocarbon vapors and fumes from burning dissolve in water and create acid pools? Did the calcium-, silicon-, aluminum-, and magnesium-oxides of pulverized concrete form salts in pools of water? Did the sulfate from the gypsum wall panels also acidify standing water? Did acids work on metal surfaces over months, to alter their appearance?

In the enormity of each rubble pile, with its massive quantity of stored heat, many effects were possible in small quantities, given time to incubate. It is even possible that in some little puddle buried deep in the rubble, warmed for months in an oven-like enclosure of concrete rocks, bathed in an atmosphere of methane, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and perhaps a touch of oxygen, that DNA was formed.

Endnotes

[1] MANUEL GARCIA, Jr., “The Physics of 9/11,” Nov. 28, 2006, [search in the Counterpunch archives of November, 2006 for this report and its two companions; one on the mechanics of building collapse, and the other an early and not-too-inaccurate speculative analysis of the fire-induced collapse of WTC 7.]

[2] “Executive Summary, Reconstruction of the Fires in the World Trade Center Towers,” NIST NCSTAR 1-5, , (28 September 2006). NIST = National Institute of Standards and Technology, NCSTAR = National Construction Safety Team Advisory Committee. https://www.nist.gov/topics/disaster-failure-studies/world-trade-center-disaster-study

[3] “Fire Structure Interface and Thermal Response of the World Trade Center Towers,” NIST NCSTAR1-5G, (draft supporting technical report G), http://wtc.nist.gov/pubs/NISTNCSTAR1-5GDraft.pdf, (28 September 2006), Chapter 3, page 32 (page 74 of 334 of the electronic PDF file).

[4] 1 m = 3.28 ft;    1 m^2 = 10.8 ft^2;    1 m^3 = 35.3 ft^3;    1 ft = 0.31 m;    1 ft^2 = 0.93 m^2;    1 ft^3 = 0.28 m^3.

[5] “National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Federal Building and Fire Safety Investigation of the World Trade Center Disaster, Answers to Frequently Asked Questions,” (11 September 2006). https://www.nist.gov/topics/disaster-failure-studies/world-trade-center-disaster-study

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This article originally appeared as:

The Thermodynamics of 9/11
28 November 2006
https://www.counterpunch.org/2006/11/28/the-thermodynamics-of-9-11/

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Climate Change Denial Is Murder

Climate change denial by government is murder by weather.

By now everyone everywhere knows that climate change is a reality, especially the deniers who are simply lying to cover up their real intent, which is to continue with their capitalist schemes of self-aggrandisement even to the point of knowingly letting people die as a consequence.

During the last two weeks, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and José, in succession, have formed in the tropical Atlantic Ocean to sweep northwest through the Caribbean toward the southern coasts of North America. Harvey has flooded hundreds of thousands of dwellings in the Gulf Coast area of Texas around Houston. Irma, the “lawnmower from the sky,” and the strongest Category 5 (out of 5) hurricane ever recorded, is just making landfall in Florida after razing a number of the smaller Caribbean islands; and Hurricane José is now sweeping into the Caribbean Sea from the east. Climate change denier and right-wing propagandist Rush Limbaugh, lounging in his Florida Xanadu, had called the official weather forecasts of Hurricane Irma’s path “fake news,” but has just heeded those same forecasts by evacuating from the storm, as well as from personal responsibility.

Climate change (as global warming) doesn’t “cause” hurricanes, it makes them more powerful and more frequent. Warmer oceans more easily evaporate, increasing the atmospheric moisture available for rain, and increasing the atmospheric heat energy available for driving winds. It takes heat to evaporate liquid water into vapor. Such vapor rising from the ocean surface mixes with the atmosphere. At higher elevations where the air temperature is lower, or in the presence of cold air currents, water vapor can lose its heat energy to the air and condense into droplets of liquid water. The heat energy released by water vapor to condense back into liquid – the latent heat of vaporization – is sizable (per unit mass of H2O) and adds to the energy of motion of the air molecules and air currents: wind. So, global warming makes for more moisture in the air over tropical ocean waters, and more heat energy in that air to drive winds and storms.

The scientific facts about global warming have been known for a very long time, and were largely learned through government-funded research. US Government officials, as in the George W. Bush administration and now in the Donald Trump administration, who publicly deny these facts – excruciatingly documented and warehoused by the scientific, technical, military and commercial agencies of the US Government – are simply voicing bald-faced lies, and are thus betraying their official and constitutional responsibilities to the American public. Since this lying (and its enabling of continued greenhouse gas pollution) is done knowingly and for monetary gain, and the consequential more violent weather (droughts, hurricanes, floods) erupting from today’s global warming climate change always causes fatalities, then that climate change denial is at the very minimum an accessory to criminally negligent manslaughter, and without a reasonable doubt to premeditated murder.

Outline History of Awareness of Climate Change

What follows is a timeline, which I first made for myself in 2013, of the development of scientific knowledge about climate change. This summary outline includes some of the incidents of the intimately related “world energy crisis,” which I define as getting enough energy for a decent standard of living worldwide, coupled with the commercial competition between: fossil fuel energy versus nuclear energy versus solar/green energy.

Both fossil fuel energy and nuclear energy are intrinsically capitalist forms of resource hoarding and market exploitation, because they are extracted from the Earth at specific locations, burned to generate electricity at large and complex industrial plants, and distributed widely and distantly through a large electrical transmission line distribution grid.

On the other hand, solar/green energy is intrinsically a socialist or public commons type of energy resource because it is naturally abundant everywhere – like sunshine and wind – and is easily converted to electricity wherever it is collected. It is because of its intrinsic socialist (anti-capitalist) nature that solar and green energy are being legally attacked and restricted in US political jurisdictions controlled by rabidly capitalist special interests. The outline now follows.

The clock for a public policy response to the “energy crisis” (now enlarged to “Global Warming” and “Climate Change”) started ticking in October 1973 with the First Arab Oil Embargo (1973 Oil Crisis), and we’ve yet to get off our asses in response to the alarm (40+ years later).

Four years later, the energy problem was serious enough for President Jimmy Carter to address the nation about it on the 202nd anniversary of Paul Revere’s ride (18 April 1977). See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-tPePpMxJaA

Peak Oil was the fear in 1977, not Global Warming, even though science had been certain about Global Warming since 1955-1957.

What follows is a very brief synopsis of the scientific development of knowledge about Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW, which is human-caused, CO2-driven Climate Change), along with incidents of the parallel World Energy Crisis.

Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide is a gaseous insulator and high capacity heat-storage medium. It can retain much more heat energy per unit mass than the two dominate atmospheric gases making up 99.03% of the atmosphere: diatomic nitrogen (N2, 78.08% of the air), and diatomic oxygen (O2, 20.95% of the air). The remaining 0.97% of the dry atmosphere is a mixture of rare gases (with low heat capacity) and organic vapors (with high heat capacity), which include the high heat capacity species: methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2). The water vapor (H2O) carried along by the otherwise dry air is also a high heat capacity medium.

Quotes below are noted as from one of:
(HCCS): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_climate_change_science
(HS): http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/156308/

(JEA): John E. Allen, Aerodynamics, Hutchinson & Co. LTD, London, 1963.

In 1896 Svante Arrhenius calculated the effect of doubling atmospheric carbon dioxide to be an increase in surface temperatures of 5-6 degrees Celsius. Meanwhile, another Swedish scientist, Arvid Högbom, had been attempting to quantify natural sources of emissions of CO2 for purposes of understanding the global carbon cycle. Högbom found that estimated carbon production from industrial sources in the 1890s (mainly coal burning) was comparable with the natural sources. (HCCS)

In 1938 a British engineer, Guy Stewart Callendar, attempted to revive Arrhenius’s greenhouse-effect theory. Callendar presented evidence that both temperature and the CO2 level in the atmosphere had been rising over the past half-century, and he argued that newer spectroscopic measurements showed that the gas was effective in absorbing infrared [heat radiation] in the atmosphere. Nevertheless, most scientific opinion continued to dispute or ignore the theory. (HCCS)

In 1955 Hans Suess’s carbon-14 isotope analysis showed that CO2 released from fossil fuels was not immediately absorbed by the ocean. (HCCS)

In 1957, better understanding of ocean chemistry led Roger Revelle to a realization that the ocean surface layer had limited ability to absorb carbon dioxide. (HCCS)

In a seminal paper published in 1957 [Roger Revelle and Hans Suess, “Carbon dioxide exchange between atmosphere and ocean and the question of an increase of atmospheric CO2 during the past decades.” Tellus 9, 18-27 (1957)], Roger Revelle and Hans Suess argued that humankind was performing “a great geophysical experiment,” [and called] on the scientific community to monitor changes in the carbon dioxide content of waters and the atmosphere, as well as production rates of plants and animals. (HS)

AGW became common knowledge among aerodynamicists and atmospheric scientists by the 1960s, as witnessed by the following passage from John E. Allen’s 1963 book surveying the field of aerodynamics “for the non-specialist, the young student, the scholar leaving school and seeking an interest for his life’s work, and for the intelligent member of the public.”

Scientists are interested in the long-term effects on our atmosphere from the combustion of coal, oil and petrol and the generation of carbon dioxide. It has been estimated that 360,000 million tons of CO2 have been added to the atmosphere by man’s burning of fossil fuels, increasing the concentration by 13%. This progressive rise in the CO2 content of the air has influenced the heat balance between the sun, air and oceans, thus leading to small but definite changes in surface temperature. At Uppsala in Sweden, for example, the mean temperature has risen 2° in 60 years. (JEA)

22 April 1970: On this first Earth Day, MG,Jr decides to aim for a career in energy research, for a brave new future.

October 1973 – March 1974: The first Arab Oil Embargo (formally known as the 1973 Oil Crisis) erupts in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War (1973 Arab-Israeli War, October 6–25, 1973).

Evidence for warming accumulated. By 1975, Manabe and Wetherald had developed a three-dimensional Global Climate Model that gave a roughly accurate representation of the current climate. Doubling CO2 in the model’s atmosphere gave a roughly 2°C rise in global temperature. Several other kinds of computer models gave similar results: it was impossible to make a model that gave something resembling the actual climate and not have the temperature rise when the CO2 concentration was increased. (HCCS)

18 April 1977: President Jimmy Carter’s Address to the Nation on Energy.

The 1979 World Climate Conference of the World Meteorological Organization concluded “it appears plausible that an increased amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can contribute to a gradual warming of the lower atmosphere, especially at higher latitudes….It is possible that some effects on a regional and global scale may be detectable before the end of this century and become significant before the middle of the next century.” (HCCS)

1979-1980: The 1979 (or Second) Oil Crisis erupts from the turmoil of the Iranian Revolution, and the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980.

March 28, 1979: A nuclear reactor meltdown occurs at the Three Mile Island power station in Pennsylvania.

July 15, 1979: President Jimmy Carter addresses the nation on its “crisis of confidence” during its 1979 energy crisis (oil and gasoline shortages and high prices). This address would become known as the “malaise speech,” though Carter never mentioned “malaise.” See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kakFDUeoJKM. Have you seen as honest an American presidential speech since? “Energy will be the immediate test of our ability to unite this nation.”

November 4, 1980: Ronald Reagan is elected president and the “big plunge” (the neoliberal shredding of the 1945 postwar social contract) begins. Poof went all my illusions about an American energy revolution.

April 26, 1986: A nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl power station in the Ukraine explodes, spewing radioactivity far and wide, and the fuel core melts down. The Chernobyl disaster was the worst nuclear power plant accident until the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of March 11, 2011.

1986: Ronald Reagan has the solar hot water system removed, which had been installed on the roof of the White House during the Carter Administration. The official US energy policy was obvious to me: solar energy and conservation were dead.

In June 1988, James E. Hansen [in Congressional testimony] 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. (HCCS)

All that AGW scientific research has done since 1988 has been to add more decimal places to the numbers characterizing the physical effects. That was over a quarter century ago. So, I take it as a given that the American and even World consensus [so far] is in favor of probable human extinction sooner (by waste heat triggered climate change) rather than later (by expansion of the Sun into a Red Giant star). And, yes, the course of the extinction will proceed inequitably. Not what I want, but what I see as the logical consequences of what is. (End of the outline.)

Global warming is Earth’s fever from its infection with capitalism.

So, whenever some government, corporate or media potentate discharges another toxic cloud of climate change denialism, realize that what they are actually and dishonestly telling you is: “I am going to keep making my financial killing regardless, and I don’t care who has to die for it.”

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Also appearing at:

Climate Change Denial Is Murder
8 September 2017
https://dissidentvoice.org/2017/09/climate-change-denial-is-murder/

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Added on 11 September 2017:

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