Black Gold, Maximum Entropy (Redux)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foster concludes his article with lyrically wishful Marxist romanticism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Originally published as:

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

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Linking Energy Use And Human Development

This is a re-posting of my report An Introduction Linking Energy Use And Human Development, from 28 April 2006 — unchanged. This is another of my personal favorites. A PDF copy of the report is available through the web-link given below.

An Introduction Linking Energy Use And Human Development
28 April 2006
https://manuelgarciajr.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/efhd_r_01.pdf

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Of related interest and more recent:

Energy for Human Development
9 November 2011
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2011/11/09/energy-for-human-development/

Energy for Society in Balance with Nature
8 June 2015 (27 February 2012)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2015/06/08/energy-for-society-in-balance-with-nature/

Our Globally Warming Civilization
2 June 2019
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/06/02/our-globally-warming-civilization/

Oil, Population, Temperature, What Causes What?
9 June 2019
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/06/09/oil-population-temperature-what-causes-what/

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Oil, Population, Temperature, What Causes What?

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Oil, Population, Temperature, What Causes What?

In statistics, correlation is not proof of causation. Causation between coincidences has to be established by deeper investigation. Three trends that are tightly coincident, between the years 1960 to 2025, are: the increase in global population above its 1953 total of 2.7 billion (2.7B), the accumulated petroleum production since 1900 (in giga-barrels, Gb), and the increase in average global temperature, T, above a baseline of 14.7 degrees Centigrade (T – 14.7C).

No one, except lying hypocritical ideologues, denies that causal links exist between these three trends, but what are they? Let’s explore the possibilities.

P1: Increases in oil production could cause increasing population and global warming.

P2: Increases in population could cause more oil production and global warming.

P3: Increases in global warming could cause increases in population and more oil production.

Possible causal links in P1 are: fossil fuel energy made available through continuing oil production could support human reproductive activity and the increase of existing families, and it could support and expand existing industrial activity that emits carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) gases.

Possible causal links in P2 are: the genetically programmed impulse to gather all resources possible in order to reproduce as much as possible could cause the continuation of oil production to garner fossil fuel energy, and it could cause global warming by expanding the mass of CO2 exhaling human life.

Possible causal links in P3 are: the increase in the temperature of the biosphere could cause continuing and expanded human reproductive activity, and the continuing production of oil.

Because the biosphere is not heating up independently of human activity, we can dismiss P3. This dismissal would only be argued against by lying hypocritical ideologues, who are irrelevant to the good of humanity and Planet Earth, so we ignore them and move on.

We are left then with oil production (P1) and population growth (P2) as fundamental drivers of global warming. Still to determine is whether oil production fuels population growth, or population growth spurs oil production, and we can suspect that they amplify each other.

Homo sapiens are one species of life on Planet Earth, and they are also one variety of primates. Since the inception of the species over 2,000 centuries ago, a sole human being without any other support has had little chance of survival, and this was also true of humanity’s precursor primate species.

All living creatures have an instinct to survive, and the strongest outlets for that instinct are: finding food and water, securing shelter and defending territory, and reproducing. Territory is defended because it offers food and water gathering and reproductive opportunities. One strategy for individual survival is to associate in groups that cooperate for mutual survival: families, packs, herds, monkey troops, clans, and human societies. Racism among humans is a degeneration of this survival strategy.

Family is the most reliable — and most genetically linked — association an individual can form to support their survival. This is why the urge to reproduce is innate, and that is why Life on Earth continues.

A larger family provides the individual with more loyal associates for water and food gathering, for defense against predators, and for protection and care when aged and ill. For individual humans, this primitive survival strategy becomes more important the less they have social welfare networks and social welfare societies to rely on.

The purpose of social welfare societies — socialism — is to provide its individuals with sufficient quantities of water, food, shelter and energy to carry on fulfilling lives, without subjecting those individuals to lonely struggles for precarious survival. This is why mortality rates are lowest in highly socialized prosperous societies, and why the consensus of individuals living in them is for low rates of reproduction, even to the point of birth rates below 2.1 per woman, the replacement rate necessary to maintain the existing size of a society’s population. It is entirely logical for individuals living without reliable socialized guarantees of getting sufficient access to water, food, shelter and energy to conduct safe and decent lives, to procreate larger families. This is why population growth is greatest among the poorer people on Earth, whether in the Industrialized Societies, the Developing World, or the impoverished Third World.

Clearly, the single best strategy to slow, and perhaps even reverse global population growth, is to provide a global system of reliable socialized security to completely support individual healthcare for life, obviously including: maternity care; safe birthing; safe abortion; child survival, healthcare, education and launching into “independent” living; elder care; and humane natural and self-willed dying. There is simply less incentive to have more children if more of them are guaranteed to survive and experience full and decent lives, and if the individual has a socially guaranteed protection of their own survival.

So, failure to provide reliable socialized protection for individual survival amplifies the innate urge to procreate, which then fuels a population explosion, whose consequence is continued global warming: because of a continuing and expanded use of fossil fuel energy that is very inequitably controlled and shared out; and because of a larger mass of humanity exhaling carbon dioxide gas (CO2), creating organic wastes that emit methane (CH4), and then these two entering geophysical positive feedback loops that amplify such subsequent emissions.

However, the population explosion alone — which is concentrated among Earth’s darker and poorer people — is not the sole cause of global warming. The continuing and expanded drive by individuals to acquire fossil fuel energy in order to accumulate more personal wealth, more personal power, more social status, and more ego gratification, is the other — and I think predominant — fundamental cause of global warming. As already noted, the control and exploitation of fossil fuel energy is very inequitably shared. Rich and politically powerful countries and individuals have overwhelming control over fossil fuel energy resources, and they are in the best positions to exploit those resources for their own aggrandizement. This is pure capitalism. Those of our fellow homo sapiens primates who are “left out” of wealth society’s fossil-fueled economic positive feedback loop will apply “monkey see, monkey do” in attempted emulation of that fossil-fueled economic growth strategy. This is why there is contention, exploitation and war within poor societies and impoverished populations. The desperate eat each other to claw to the top of their heaps.

So, the production and use of petroleum is driven by the will for selfish gain by rich and poor alike — the rich having much greater advantages in doing so — and by the legitimate needs of individuals and their societies to acquire sufficient energy to sustain their survival and that of their children in safe and decent lives. As population grows so does the need for greater amounts of energy: energy for human development, (1), (2).

Clearly, the single best strategy to slow, and maybe even someday reverse global warming, is to replace fossil fuel energy with solar and “green” energy, whose production and use does not emit CO2, CH4, and other organic “greenhouse” vapors.

While access to greater amounts of heat and electrical energy — whether from green or from fossil fuel sources — can make it easier to accommodate increased human fertility, the presence of reliable, global, equitable socialized protections of individual and family survival, health and well-being will act to limit (and ultimately decrease) population growth, and as a consequence throttle the need for an ever expanding grasp for energy.

So, the entwined trends of a population explosion concentrated among the “have nots,” with a highly inequitable expansion and use of energy — primarily from fossil fuels — controlled by the “haves,” combines to form our current world crisis of: global warming; environmental degradation; biodiversity, habitat and survivability losses; and inequitably distributed socio-economic decay. The cure for this world illness is the combination of a conversion from fossil fuel energy to green energy, along with the establishment of a global system of socialized security for individual and family survival, health and welfare.

The continuation of our globally feverish illness is simply a reflection of the continuation of selfishness and egotism applied on top of the genetically implanted instinct for survival, in our highly inequitable human societies and human civilization. The great barrier to curing this illness is overcoming the resistance to relinquishing the grasping for primitive personal advantage by the weakening and exploitation of others; and replacing it with: individual commitments to ethical living; mutual trust among all people; and economic leveling and universal human welfare as matters of government policy.

The combination of the last three would help to form a world solidarity that is in balance with Nature. This would be a consciously willed evolutionary advance of our species, a victory of frontal lobe cognition over limbic system reactivity. The unwillingness and “inability” to form such a green, world solidarity would be acquiescence to a near-distant, unnatural and unnecessary human extinction.

The cure is as immensely impractical and as trivially easy as all of us homo sapiens simply choosing to consciously change our ways, with trust in each other for fair dealing and mutual protection. Call it green socialism if you like.

Notes

1. Energy For Human Development,
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2011/11/09/energy-for-human-development/

2. Energy For Society In Balance With Nature
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2015/06/08/energy-for-society-in-balance-with-nature/

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Too Many People, or Too Much Greed?

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Too Many People, or Too Much Greed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

World population is estimated to have reached one billion for the first time in 1804. It was another 123 years before it reached two billion in 1927, but it took only 33 years to reach three billion in 1960. The global population reached four billion in 1974 (14 years later), five billion in 1987 (13 years later), six billion in 1999 (12 years later), and seven billion in October 2011 (12 years later), according to the United Nations, or in March 2012 (13 years later), according to the United States Census Bureau.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Melting of the Fortress of Solitude

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The Melting of the Fortress of Solitude

The American dream is the eternal one: wealth by luck, power by wealth, and freedom from responsibility by power. The American nightmare is our most democratized experience: impoverishment by design, powerlessness by impoverishment, and the shackling of the powerless to responsibility for the crimes of wealth.

We live in a mediocracy, the mark of failure is success. To be fully human is to fail at being a successfully commodified robot.

The orgy of gun violence we live with daily is the product of a complete failure to craft and make universally available systems of genuine education. It is because minds are depreciated and discarded en masse to facilitate the obsession for accumulation that our mass consumption and massive violence are so pervasively mindless. We are drowning in the blood of our own unacknowledged denial, our own decapitated awareness of responsibility.

Genius for social uplift and human enlightenment are quarantined as diseased, as deadly infectious threats to the barbaric insanity of our approved nationalist ideology — as they rightly are. Ours is a society of blithe mad mediocrity, which is only confused by the continuing urge of the excluded to resist their impoverishment and disappearance. The ploughing under from public visibility of the exploited disfavored and the powerless meritorious is our greatest and most assiduously censored tragedy; but the coincident creeping destruction of a species that lusts for its viral affliction to sociopathic degeneracy, and its own ultimate extinction, is not. Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad. Character is fate.

Some would say it has always been so throughout human history, and others would say that today’s American societal rot is of recent origin: since Trump?, since Bush?, since Reagan?, since Nixon?, since the defeat of Henry Wallace?, since the end of World War I and the death of Eugene V. Debs?, since the betrayal of Lincoln’s last hopes by the tawdry Grant administration and in the fatal corruption of Reconstruction after the Civil War? Regardless, it is our tolerance for that rot today and our obliviousness to history before yesterday that is our fundamental civic sin. The scrawny weed poking through the cracks in that blanketing obliviousness is hope.

Hope is a delusion that makes it possible to get through life day by day, and so it is immensely valuable. Perhaps by the unpredictable quantum fluctuations of the physical universe, and the unknowable future emergent variants of genetic succession, hope will percolate through the obstacles of our times to decisively kill off the obdurate fearful bigotries that collectively imprison us, and to miraculously deliver us — more likely our descendants, should we have any — into a humane form of advanced civilization.

And while the despairingly idealistic and fearfully materialistic will mock the popular yearnings for liberation as stupid millennialist naïveté, those yearnings will persist as long as they are denied realization, whether that end-of-history is the improbable and transcendent enlightenment of our species, or the implacable iron socialism of extinction brought about by Nature’s indifferent abandonment of us all.

Our compulsions are willed, not pre-ordained. Our particular isolations are the triumph of mediocrity over the potential of humanity. It is our coldness of heart that is melting our finest dreams.

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One Soul Saved

 

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One Soul Saved

To believe that climate change can be averted is to believe that humanity can rapidly improve itself morally. Maybe it will, I can’t say. For me, it is better to believe in an ennobling vision and pursue it for a lifetime, even if it fails, than to submit to a tawdry comfortable slavery, which is the cause of that massively popular failure. Aspiring to better humanity is lonely work easily inundated by oceanic inattention and unconscious ingratitude. All that you may gain could only be the bracing realization that you at least kept faith with the honorable in nature during your brief twinkle of living consciousness: one soul saved.

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Two Worlds

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Two Worlds

There are only two worlds now: the Included and the Excluded; and there are only two kinds of people: those who care about it, and those who don’t.

The Included World hastens to fortify its walls, gunmen, and accountants enclosing its select archipelago of oases defining its territory of secure consuming obliviousness, against the straining pressure of the rising flood from bursting Exclusion, compressed against its own outflow by Inclusion’s higher thicker dams holding back that impoundment of anguish swelling with frigid impoverishment and churning into boiling panicked stampedes toward the fabled cervixes of Inclusion, like turbulent torrents of delirious sperm racing up narrow clogged fallopian tubes, hurling themselves toward feverish beatific visions of higher bountiful fruition, while all around everywhere those exhausted in body, mind and spirit by the blind rush for survival fall out unseen to stagnate in the worlds’ gutters littered with the failures of luck and the refuse of compassionless inattention, to wither in the open, waste away in the dark, and be picked off by soulless scavengers.

Beyond the age of three, unless they thereafter ferociously resist the dissolution of their personal integrity by the ambient mass psychosis, the potentially Included increasing devolve into zombies absorbed into generic personal fogs of indoctrinated illusions roboticizing them to mesh into enslaving gear trains of unconscious commercialized self-absorption as redundant units in the anthill pyramids of petty-minded potentates contending for greater leadership in Inclusion’s assault on the future. The waste heat of Included thoughtless excess rains down a desiccating coldness of heart onto the Excluded whose wellsprings of vitality are parasitically sucked out by remote greed, inundating the castaways with a desolation of uncaring, and garrotting them by the concentration of their bombarded fecundity.

Day after day the buoyant Included step with practiced ignorance over the unnoticed corpses of expired Excluded, fallen in their parallel isolation from within the descending crowd, across the pathways of Inclusion’s unrelenting drives of politicked ascendancy toward higher rungs of privilege and prestige, toward ampler harvests of enriching sales, toward wider presences of blaring advertisement in the electronic fields of automated rent-seeking, and toward grander delusions of self-worth measured by volumes of automated vapid exaltation, and looted cash.

In time the violent dams erected by Inclusion will collapse like the ice dams of the Pleistocene, with ensuing floods scouring to scablands the now plump islands of contentment, homogenizing the muddy sea of humanity. When? How? Who knows? But Nature eventually balances opposing forces, levels steep-sided heights, and equates differences in the time-unravelling chaos of entropy. The personal you, and all of your stuff, will be carried off by time’s unceasing undercurrent of dissipation. All your scheming and all your dreaming will be dissolved away, like everyone else’s, and the only fleeting remnant of any real worth you as a conscious organism may have had will be the fading memories in succeeding generations of if you had cared and how you had shared. Be happy, this is good, it means we each can know how to live enlightened and then come to die with an honest self-respect free of regrets.

Indifferent Nature dictates the Two Worlds must merge into One, but by the whimsical randomness of evolution our human species has uniquely been granted the limited power of deciding, soon, if that future One will be alive for all, or dead for us. Be happy, this is good, it means we can collectively know how to live as a socially enlightened species in harmony with all life, and with honest self-respect free of regrets — if we chose to.

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