Why celebrate Greta Thunberg?

“So, why should we celebrate Greta Thunberg being named Time Magazine’s person of the year?”

Because she’s young (thus having a greater claim to “the future”), committed, absolutely correct about climate change, witheringly clear, endearingly free of emotionalism and self-promotion, and more effective at public advocacy and consciousness-raising about the need for profound and immediate socio-economic transformation than anyone else on the planet. How she did this is immaterial but the fact is it’s done and she’s using it to maximum advantage for her (and our?) cause. She’s on the cover of Time Magazine for the same reason Obama wanted to shake her hand, TV hosts want her on their shows, and UN conferences invite her to speak: because they all want to attach themselves to her authenticity to make up for the deficiencies of their own. Many people high, low, right, left and center are envious of her, and that envy merely illuminates the extent of their bullshit.

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Climate, from Catastrophe to Cataclysm

Australian wildfire, 2019
Image from Near Term Human Extinction Evidence Group

Image from Near Term Human Extinction Evidence Group

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Climate, from Catastrophe to Cataclysm

Please watch the 23 minute video, linked below, to completion. It shows an interview of Dr. Peter Carter (Director Climate Emergency Institute, IPCC expert reviewer, Co-author in 2018 of Unprecedented Crime: Climate Science Denial and Game Changers for Survival). This interview was conducted at COP25 (“this is set up to fail”) currently underway in Madrid, Spain, on 10 December 2019.

Peter Carter gives a vividly clear, trenchantly concise summary of the state of Earth’s climate; the increasing acceleration of all the phenomena that drive global warming climate change (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide emissions); the obdurate denial of the climate emergency, and the opposition to any action in response to it by the high carbon-emitting fossil fuel-loving nations: the United States, Russia, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, at the very least. I would venture to guess that Australia, under its current reactionary Morrison Administration, would also join the objecting ‘carbonaholics’ despite it currently experiencing a mega-drought with massive and uncontrolled wildfires.

The average global temperature today is just under 1.4°C above its level during the years 1951 to 1980 (the baseline). The level in year 1000 coincided with the baseline. Between 1000 and the baseline years the temperature dipped to an average low 0.5°C below baseline, which extended from 1500 to 1800. All temperature fluctuations during the 800 years between 1000 and 1800 were well less than 0.5°C (plus or minus). Average global temperature has risen since 1980 at an average rate of 0.5°C every 14 years. Climate science has identified 1.5°C above baseline as the threshold between catastrophe to cataclysm; the threshold of 2°C above baseline, much publicized for over a decade as the “safe limit,” is actually over the redline of our climate change tachometer: “blown engine,” biosphere collapse.

The global carbon dioxide (CO2) level was between 275ppm and 285ppm (ppm = parts per million, 1 ppm is equivalent to 0.01% by volume) between years 1000 and 1800. By 1900 it was 300ppm, rising increasingly rapidly since. Today’s CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is 415ppm, a level that last occurred 3 million years ago.

The global methane (CH4) level was between 650ppb and 700ppb (ppb = parts per billion) between years 1000 and 1750. The methane level has risen at an increasing rate since: from 700ppb in 1750 to 850ppb in 1900; and then zooming to over 1850ppb today. Methane is 86 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Peter Carter describes the massive explosion of methane emission that is occurring right now around Point Barrow, Alaska.

The global nitrous oxide (N2O) level was between 264ppb and 274ppb between years 1000 and 1880. Thereafter it zoomed at an increasing rate to 332ppb today.

Considering the mean sea level to have been at a baseline elevation in 1900 (which also coincided with its elevation in 1150, 1300, 1450 and 1800) its fluctuations about baseline between years 1000 and 1900 were limited to 8 centimeters (3.2 inches) above, and 3 centimeters (1.2 inches) below. Since 1900 the elevation of mean sea level has increased to almost 22 centimeters (8.7 inches) above baseline today; a steady average rate-of-rise of almost 2 centimeters per decade since the beginning of the 20th century.

Again, please watch the video to hear Dr. Peter Carter’s very important, concise and pungent summary of where our world is today regarding its climate change emergency: stepping out blindly from catastrophe into cataclysm.

Dr Peter Carter: summarising the lack of “climate emergency” at #COP25
[23:11]
10 December 2019
https://youtu.be/oa13KrOvE2s

Note

The numerical values given for CO2, CH4, N2O concentrations, and changes in global temperature and mean-sea-level, were read from charts published by the 2 Degrees Institute.

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From Caesar’s Last Breath To Ours

After the career: books donated in 2019.

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From Caesar’s Last Breath To Ours

Human Life is a sexually transmitted planetary disease, Climate Change is the disinfectant that will cure it. (I’ll explain myself on this later.)

Sam Kean’s concluding 5 paragraphs, on CO2 in the atmosphere, from his book Caesar’s Last Breath (And Other True Tales of History, Science, and the Sextillions of Molecules in the Air Around Us, 2017, Back Bay Books, Little Brown & Co) are interesting, being a series of statements of long-known physical quantities. Since I studied “gas physics” for my graduate studies (in the 1970s), and I developed an interest in climate change at least by 2004 (when I published my first article on climate change), I’ve known the basic facts Kean commented on for quite some time.

In one of my technical books on gas physics (Introduction to Physical Gas Dynamics, by Walter G. Vincenti and Charles H. Kruger, 1965, John Wiley & Sons, NY) an example is given in which the authors illustrate the physical phenomena of gaseous diffusion by showing that the last breath expelled by Julius Caeser will have taken years to fully disperse in a homogenous manner throughout the earth’s atmosphere, and so each person ‘today’ would likely breath in, on average, 5 molecules of that last breath. One amazing feature of the example is that it shows just how many molecules there are in each cubic meter of air (at sea level and ‘normal’ temperature), 2.69×10^25 per meter^3 = 2.69×10^19 per cm^3. Vincenti and Kruger quote the following from James Jeans’ 1940 book An Introduction to the Kinetic Theory of Gases (Cambridge University Press):

“…, a man is known to breath out about 400 c.c. of air at each breath, so that a single breath of air must contain about 10^22 molecules. The whole atmosphere of the earth consists of about 10^44 molecules. Thus one molecule bears the same relation to a breath of air as the latter does to the whole atmosphere of the earth. If we assume that the last breath of, say, Julius Caesar has by now become thoroughly scattered through the atmosphere, then the chances are that each of us inhales one molecule of it with every breath we take. A man’s lungs hold about 2000 c.c. of air, so that the chances are that in the lungs of each of us there are about five molecules from the last breath of Julius Caesar.”

The average spacing between air molecules (at sea level, or “standard temperature and pressure” = STP) is about 3.3×10^-7 centimeters. Since air molecules travel at an average speed of 5×10^4 centimeters/second (at STP), and each such molecule travels an average distance of 6×10^-6 centimeters before colliding into another molecule (obviously whizzing by many others between collisions), the frequency of collisions per molecule is about 10^10 collisions/second, or about 10 collisions per nanosecond.

Each such collision will deflect the colliding molecules into new directions of travel, so it can take them a very long time to actually transport from Point A to Point B separated by global distances. One number bandied about by commentators on climate change (who at least halfway know what they’re talking about) is that it takes “30 years” for local CO2 emissions to begin having a “global effect” as part of global warming. This is basically the timescale of atmospheric homogenization by diffusion of the locally emitted plumes, because of course the individual CO2 molecules of such plumes are quite ready to absorb infrared radiation, and lose it as heat released to other air molecules during collisions (the actual mechanics of global warming) from the instant those CO2 molecules are formed.

A different indicator of atmospheric trace gas homogenization is that a uniform (independent of geographical location) quantity per unit mass of radioactive fallout absorption/take-up by trees was first measured (recently, from tree corings) to have occurred in late 1965. Radioactive fallout was first created in 1945, and the greatest number of atmospheric (and any) nuclear explosions, by far, occurred in 1962. Some geologists have now proposed labeling the beginning of the Anthropocene from late 1965, and calling that year the end of the Holocene (which is/was the current geological epoch, which began with the last glacial period/retreat approximately 11,650 years ago). “Anthropocene” because it is the first epoch in which human activity (anthropo) has a global geophysical impact; such impacts being worldwide nuclear fallout (as in the 1957 book and 1959 movie On The Beach), and anthropogenic CO2/greenhouse gas-driven global warming.

When I first wrote about global warming/climate change, it was out of this perspective as a gas physicist trying to explain the technical details to a lay audience. I soon learned that the audience was not only laying, but snoring. I was trying to prod “people” into action to forestall climate change by “greening” energy technology, since I was also an engineer focused on “energy” and “efficiency.” Plus I was hoping a huge public shift in this direction would open up some nice ($$$) job opportunities for me. But the snoozing audience just wants consumerism at the lowest common denominator level, and the Big Bosses just want bombs (and money for themselves). So no sweet high-tech green-physics job for me, but more firepower for the ‘criminalated’ psychopaths who are our guiding self-worshipping self-imagined Olympians, more gargantuan Black Friday tsunamis of electro-plastic garbage consumerism for the ‘amnesiatariat,’ and as a result giga-tons more carbonation of the atmosphere and acidification of the seas, and less viability for our planet with its growing human population.

Since “the human element” (mental inertia, ego, tribalism) always controls and limits the actualization of any technical enterprise by a group of people — like greening away from fossil fuels — it was quickly obvious to me that though most “solar energy” technologies were ancient and well-understood “we” were not going to give up fossil fuel convenience, wealth-generation and enablement-of-political-power in favor of green energy, and so consequently global warming could only increase. And it has, and will. So I write about climate change “for the art of it” and for personal satisfaction, in particular to put my views “on the record” for my children. But I can only fantasize, without belief, that such writing will have any practical political effect — of course I’d like it to, but I’m a realist. Happily, it’s always nice to hear every now and then from someone who already agrees with my views, that something I’ve written has given them some encouragement.

And that is where the arc of my climate change consciousness — from the science to our society — has brought me to today: human connection. Given that fossil fueled humanity is intransigent, and now the advance of climate change is implacable (“tipping points”), I see the best focus for most people’s limited energies beyond their immediate survival and family needs to be the developing of a consciousness of climate change and political reality, and a commitment to acting toward others at a minimum with benign neutrality and better yet with compassion, honesty and solidarity, so human society is generally improved and economically more leveled, regardless of the geophysical conditions under which it exists at any given time. For a society that is as deeply humane as I’ve suggested (and vastly different than today’s) then if and when we really do enter a rapidly accelerating “end time” our individual exits would be as decently humane as possible because they would be occurring within a societal death-with-dignity of a society of broad solidarity. I suppose this is kind of glum thinking, but maybe that’s an inevitable result of my growing ‘old’ in these times.

All this has been a rather prolix introduction to a video about climate change I thought you might enjoy. The Age Of Stupid is a 90 minute British documentary from 2009 (five years in the making) that remains brilliantly cogent about the “human element” driving the climate change geophysics, and is also refreshingly accurate about the physical details of that geophysics. [1] The Age Of Stupid Revisited is a 15 minute look back on the original documentary, from today. [2] Nothing has changed for the better; for the worse yes. Reflecting on this documentary, on the arc of my climate change consciousness, and on my belief (which I wish future reality would contradict) that there will never be any significant collective action to stop anthropo-exacerbation of climate change, and to also end poverty and to economically level national and world societies, I arrived at the rather tart characterization that: human life is a sexually transmitted planetary disease, and climate change is the disinfectant that will cure it.

Notes

[1] The Age of Stupid
2009
https://youtu.be/awVbLg59tR8

[2] The Age of Stupid revisited: what’s changed on climate change?
15 March 2019
https://youtu.be/GqHKYwxEIRA

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What Should You Do About Climate Change?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here, the symbol * designates multiplication.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eg = 50 + 10 = 60.

Er = 5 + 0 = 5.

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

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

Eg = 0 + 5 = 5.

Er = 10 + 50 = 60.

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

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

For this mild liberal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

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

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

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

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Through My Lens, Clearly

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Through My Lens, Clearly

For me, the 1950s ended in 1962 with the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the 1960s began in 1959 with the Cuban Revolution. I remember the elation in my family, in New York City’s Upper West Side (136th Street, and Broadway), when the Batista Regime in Cuba collapsed in January 1959; and I remember our dumbstruck terror in October 1962, listening to President John Kennedy speaking on our black-and-white TV, wondering if my grandparents would be radioactively incinerated in Havana before we were similarly dematerialized in New York City, or vice versa.

That is how my political consciousness was born; its coming-of-age and definitive molding was done later by the Vietnam War, and the many insistent demands by my government that I sacrifice myself to it. I escaped by dumb luck, for which I am eternally grateful. With the particular curvature and polish of my own idiosyncratic lens for political consciousness, I have come to resolve images of our collective reality that I sometimes feel a need to project, as here today.

People can’t be changed, they either evolve on their own, or they persist as they are to the death. The best you can do, for the rare few, is tell them the truth if they ask.

We live in a world rich in its diversity of intolerance of independent thought and self-directed living. Expressions of personal independence and creativity are threats to the slavish conformity of the mass of fearful repressed people hiding in their submissiveness to traditional ideologies that give them status in social hierarchies that limit the full human potential of the individual. This maintains, without merit, the elevation of patriarchs and power-hungry mediocrities who clip the wings of the human spirit and direct the enforcement of their systems of mental and physical imprisonment of the masses serving them.

Bigotry is popular because it makes stupid people feel intelligent, and weak people feel strong. President (sic!) Donald Trump’s popularity rests on people’s desire to be bigoted and respected for it. Bigotry will exist as long as there are ignorant people who are fearful. Such bigoted people love fascism because under it they can stay bigoted and be proud of it. Fascist bigots, like Trump, don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want to be made to feel ashamed. That is why publicly recognized fascist power-seekers always try to silence their critics: first by ignoring them, then by ridiculing them, then by judicial attacks against them, or by veiled calls to their followers to sprout proxies who will make illegal attacks on their critics, and ultimately if they gain dictatorial power they have their critics killed.

Evangelical Christianity is a cult of fear, and for its men also a cult of patriarchy. Politically, it is irrational Republicanism; socially, it is white supremacy and the subjugation of women. Why do such Republican women remain Republican? Because their bigotry, which is fear, is so embedded that it overpowers their self-respect, which is courage. Evangelical Christianity sees Islam as its reflection and its rival, which is why it hates Islam. In practice, their religion is a hate crime. Heraclitus was so perceptive to write, in about 500 BC, that “bigotry is the disease of the religious.”

The problem of race bigotry in America is like the problem of climate change. It is of our making, and we know how to fix it, but we never will. People are too invested in their ignorance for that to ever happen, and afraid if they let it go they will be weak in a changed world.

Arresting climate change would require the universal application of human intelligence, indiscriminate compassion, worldwide solidarity instead of personal selfishness, and thoughtful discipline instead of thoughtless waste. We are doomed. Climate Change is only a problem for the young, bequeathed to them by the old, who won’t notice it anyway because they’re comfortably done, and will be gone soon (geologically speaking).

I probably should not bother writing about the Climate Change Crisis anymore. Everyone everywhere now knows that it is real, and most have felt its first unpleasant effects. So, some Green Energy actions will now happen in response, probably too few, too weak and too late, but at least a start now that the Global Mind has opened to the truth.

Also, I really don’t need to write any more Jeremiads against Republican Party partisans (there are plenty of others to do that nicely), because it is now obvious to everyone everywhere — even the U.S. corporate media (though it puckers their sphincters to mouth it) — that the Republican Party is just a fascist conspiracy to eliminate democracy in the United States of America, and replace it with an authoritarian corporatized xenophobic bigoted Fundamentalist Christian White Supremacy theocratic oligarchy, to drive us all expeditiously to extinction under their self-satisfied obsessively avaricious command. Thieves lie, and liars steal. For them, it is better for humanity to die out badly than for the stupid, bigoted and greedy to be bypassed. Capitalism is fossil-fueled greed with a total lack of imagination, and a bodacious military. Capitalism is the ideology of parasites.

Who built the United States of America into the richest country in world history?: enslaved and exterminated Native Americans, enslaved Africans, dispossessed Mexicans, and exploited European and Asian immigrant laborers. Who produces American wealth today?: the wage-slave descendants of all of these, who only gain a pittance from their harvested labors. What salve are these squeezed working people given for the bruising sacrifices they make of their humanity into the endlessly grinding engines of obsessive greed?: a patriotism deficient in human solidarity but voracious for taxes. But, don’t think of it as taxes, think of it as tithing to the War Religion.

So in my lens’s focus today I find the following: For the world: Capitalism must die for the World to live. For my country: Tribalism is America’s fatal flaw. Resentment, envy and a fanatical sense of entitlement are its corrosive agents. A generational overturning led by socialist youth is its only hope. For myself and every other person: It’s not what happens to you that determines whether you are a success or failure at life, but how you deal with it. As Thucydides quoted Pericles: “Honor is the only thing that does not grow old.”

And now, back to the bread and circuses.

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Ye Cannot Swerve Me: Moby-Dick and Climate Change

“Come, Ahab’s compliments to ye; come and see if ye can swerve me. Swerve me? ye cannot swerve me, else ye swerve yourselves! man has ye there. Swerve me? The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run. Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled hearts of mountains, under torrents’ beds, unerringly I rush! Naught’s an obstacle, naught’s an angle to the iron way!”
— Herman Melville (1819-1891), Moby-Dick, Chapter 37.

This is one of many passages, in Herman Melville’s 1851 novel, Moby-Dick, describing Captain Ahab’s monomaniacal obsession to hunt down and kill the white bull sperm whale whose name is the novel’s title. (1) Ahab sought vengeance for being scarred — with curved conical teeth up to 20 cm (8 in) long and weighing up to 1 kg (2.2 lb) each — from head to knee and having his leg torn off, against Moby Dick, who had fought off a pursuit by whalers led by Ahab on a previous voyage:

“Aye, Starbuck; aye, my hearties all round; it was Moby Dick that dismasted me; Moby Dick that brought me to this dead stump I stand on now… Aye, aye! it was that accursed white whale that razed me; made a poor pegging lubber of me for ever and a day!… and I’ll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition’s flames before I give him up. And this is what ye have shipped for, men! to chase that white whale on both sides of land, and over all sides of earth, till he spouts black blood and rolls fin out.”

But Starbuck, the First Mate aboard their ship, the Pequod, was having none of it. Starbuck was a devout Christian, a Quaker, eschewing all violence except for the hot bloody rush of catching and killing whales to boil their blubber down to the fine oil that would fetch handsome profits at the Nantucket market. Starbuck objects to his commander’s private scheme hijacking the Pequod and her crew from “the business we follow… I came here to hunt whales, not my commander’s vengeance.” To Starbuck, Ahab’s obsession is not only a derailment of their business but even an affront to God, because Ahab is intent to avenge himself on Nature itself through its organic manifestation as this one mighty white whale:

“Vengeance on a dumb brute!” Starbuck replies to Ahab, “that simply smote thee from blind instinct! Madness! To be enraged with a dumb thing, Captain Ahab, seems blasphemous.”

As regards human activity, Starbuck was right, but we now know that sperm whales are intelligent animals, like all cetaceans, and not purely dumb brutes: they have both memory and intent. The sperm whale brain is the largest known of any modern or extinct animal, weighing on average about 7.8 kilograms (17 lb), more than five times heavier than a human’s, and has a volume of about 8,000 cm^3. The sperm whale’s cerebrum is the largest in all mammalia, both in absolute and relative terms. (2)

The story, Moby-Dick, is famous around the world and most people know that Ahab and all his crew except one, Ishmael, perished in a failed attempt to wreak Ahab’s vengeance, which even cost the sinking of the Pequod, stove in by Moby Dick’s ramming. The novel is much much more than merely its sea adventure plot, and description of 19th century whaling. It is a roving philosophical inquiry into the nature of character, faith and perception; as well as a metaphor for Melville’s ruminations on American democracy, which was shifting from a free association of agrarian ruralists to an increasingly industrialized regimentation of expansionist outlook. Melville’s Moby-Dick, along with Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn (1885), are the quintessential American novels (in my opinion, at least).

A key point in Moby-Dick is that the crew willingly joined into Ahab’s scheme, and despite Starbuck’s opposition to it. By rights, and whaling industry regulations and customs, the officers and crew of the Pequod were duty-bound to wrest control of the ship from Ahab because he was usurping the use of the vessel and its personnel for his private ends, and away from its intended purpose. The fully outfitted Pequod, bound on a three year hunting expedition, represented the investments of the owners and many shareholders, including widows and orphans of lost Nantucket whalers, as well the ongoing labor investments of the Pequod’s crew, which were to be paid out of the expected harvest of whale oil.

Maximizing that harvest was the whalers’ business, and it was intended to be pursued as a voluntary association of men into a hierarchical organization glued together by a commonality of personal financial interests. Ahab used his fearsome magnetic personality, like witchcraft, to steal the souls of his men and make them instruments for the implementation of his own personal hatred. Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961), the great Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, made this exact diagnosis of Adolph Hitler (1889-1945) and the German nation under his dictatorship during 1933 to 1945. (3) That same diagnosis can be applied, in varying degrees, then and now, here and abroad, to many political “leaders.” The eternal question for the many laboring crews of the many workshops of this world — agrarian and industrial — is: do we work dutifully to the death, or till cast adrift as expendable, and do we willingly follow the leader to perdition if he is hellbound and determined for it; or do we rebel, overturn the structure of command, and lead ourselves even if such freedom entails a hard life?

And this brings me to global warming climate change: fossil fuels are the opiates in the addiction to war that would be the death of humanity by Planet Earth’s rejection of it.

Do we work dutifully to the death, or till cast adrift as expendable, and do we willingly follow the leader to perdition if he is hellbound and determined for it; or do we rebel, overturn the structure of command, and lead ourselves even if such freedom entails a hard life? Is humanity as a whole worth our individual pains in this effort? Or, is the idea of restructuring human civilization — and soon — to jettison capitalism, authoritarianism, and their enabling fossil-fueled militarism and marbling corruption, just a chimera that would use up our individual life forces to no avail; is it simply better to accept the inevitability of inequitable finalities and “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,” as Robert Herrick (1591-1674) wrote? (4)

I, personally, rebel at this surrender because I see it as a betrayal of our young people, and an insult to our honor and to our fully liberated frontal lobe intelligence (though much of that is neglected and unused, I’ll grant) and our technical capabilities. But I don’t dismiss the question: I guess I’ve gotten old.

It has been 31 years since climatologist James E. Hansen, in testimony to the U.S. Congress in June 1988, made one of the first assessments that human-caused warming had already measurably affected global climate. Shortly after, a “World Conference on the Changing Atmosphere: Implications for Global Security” gathered hundreds of scientists and others in Toronto. They concluded that the changes in the atmosphere due to human pollution “represent a major threat to international security and are already having harmful consequences over many parts of the globe,” and declared that by 2005 the world should push its emissions some 20% below the 1988 level. (5)

Since then, basically, nothing substantive has been done by our governments to combat this existential threat. And today the reality of global warming climate change — the crisis of continuing existence — is known, viscerally, to everybody (even the liars).

Our geophysical problem is the slowing of the advance of global warming, by drastically reducing the rates of continuing accumulation in the atmosphere of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases (like volatile organic compounds, VOCs) whose aggregate heat-trapping mass could push Earth’s climate system past an unknown threshold or “tipping point,” triggering a sudden and catastrophic transition to climatic conditions significantly more hostile to human survival.

What may not be fully appreciated is that our geophysical problem may be far beyond human capabilities to ever be resolved even were humanity to metamorphose itself through a rapid social evolution producing a miraculous reformulation of human civilization into an enlightened temporal Nirvana liberally powered entirely by green energy.

Will climate change drive humanity to extinction? If so, how much time have we got?, and how will it happen? These questions are on the minds of many people today. In this essay, I will follow paleontologists deep into the geological past to see if it can offer any analogs to the evolving climatic conditions of today, and in that way give us a window into our future.

Average Global Surface Temperature History

The trend of average global surface temperature between 1900 and 2100 — relative to the average temperature during 1951 to 1980 (the “datum” for our temperature scales here) — is shown in the following figure (6).

Projections (colored lines), with uncertainty bounds of ±1 standard deviation (shading), for future surface temperature rise from models that use different economic scenarios. Scenario A2 (in red) represents “business as usual” where temperature is projected to rise by the end of the century between 2°C and 5.5°C if no effort is made to constrain the rise of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, which by 2100 could range between 525ppm and 1000ppm (ppm = parts per million of the air volume). The solid bars at right indicate the best estimate (solid line) and possible ranges (grey shading) for each scenario. (6)

A view of this relative temperature history between 1880 and 2016 follows.

Notice that the temperature distance from the 1951-1980 average global surface temperature ranges from -0.8°C (1917) to +1.3°C (February 2016). Planet Earth today is about 1.5°C warmer than it was in the 19th century. What was the global surface temperature at earlier times?

Planet Earth has gone through many cycles of glacial and interglacial intervals over the previous 800,000 years. During those Ice Age climatic oscillations, the concentration of carbon dioxide gas (CO2) in the atmosphere cycled between about 170ppm and 300ppm, and temperature cycled between about +4°C and -10°C about our mean global surface temperature datum. (7)

Climate change during the previous 65 million years has been charted as follows. For the details of this image, see note (8).

The green trace shows oxygen isotope measurements (for the oxygen-18 isotope as a fraction of the oxygen present in the sample) on the stacked layers of carbonate (chalk) deposits down through the seafloor (obtained by core drilling), formed from the compacted shells of ancient foraminifera. Temperatures later than 13Mya (Mya = million years ago) are shown in the box at the lower right of the above image; the dashed horizontal line indicates the datum. Temperatures (relative to the datum) between 65Mya and 35Mya are shown in the box in the upper left of the image. Antarctica was glaciating, thawing and reglaciating between 35Mya and 13 Mya, and science has insufficient data to determine the temperature history for that complicated interval. (8)

Notice the little spike labeled PETM, at 56Mya in the image above. This is the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, a very short-lived (200,000 years) high temperature excursion. The height of this temperature spike is likely underestimated by a factor of 2 to 4 because of the coarse sampling and averaging involved in this record.

At least since 1997, the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum has become a focal point of considerable geoscience research because it probably provides the best past analog by which to understand impacts of global climate warming and of massive carbon input to the ocean and atmosphere, including ocean acidification. Although it is now widely accepted that the PETM represents a “case study” for global warming and massive carbon input to Earth’s surface, the cause, details and overall significance of the event remain perplexing. (9)

Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM)

The paleogeography of 56Mya was not that different from today; there was no ice at the poles, the Atlantic Ocean was not as wide as it is now, and India was only just beginning to collide with the rest of Asia. The climate during the Eocene Epoch (56Mya to 34Mya) was much warmer then today: Redwood trees grew in the Canadian Arctic, and the environment of that polar region looked like Okefenokee Swamp (straddling the state boundaries of present-day Florida and Georgia); mid-latitude continental interiors were warm through the winter, with giant palms growing in Wyoming and crocodiles ranging through the swamps and rivers. The poles remained ice-free during the entire interval spanning the Paleocene Epoch (66Mya to 56Mya) and the Eocene Epoch (56Mya to 34Mya).

The expected rise in average global surface temperature during the 90 years between 2010 and 2100 is like the rise in global temperature, going backwards in time, from ‘now’ to 35Mya: about 4°C to 5°C above the datum. “In just a few human lifetimes we’re going to change conditions in the atmosphere to a state that hasn’t been seen in 35 million years” commented Dr. Scott Wing (Curator of Fossil Plants, Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC) in his detailed lecture on the PETM. (10)

During the Paleocene, CO2 concentration in the atmosphere (also called “partial pressure”) was estimated to have been at 380ppm to 400ppm, and then rose to 800ppm just prior to the onset of the PETM (56Mya), producing a global temperature about 4°C warmer than our datum. The CO2 concentration then doubled or more to at least 1600ppm to 2000ppm within a few millennia at the start of the PETM, ‘quickly’ (in geological terms) producing an additional temperature rise of 4°C to 8°C.

Between 4,000 and 7,000 billion tons of carbon were injected into the atmosphere within the initial millennia of the PETM; the first (and biggest?) pulse lasting less than 2,000 years, and the emissions ending within 20,000 years. It would take the natural processes of CO2 removal 200,000 years to return the CO2 concentration and the global temperature to their levels prior to the onset of the PETM.

The amount of carbon injected into the atmosphere during the PETM is about the size of the carbon burp that would (will?) be realized by burning the entire fossil fuel reservoir humanity has at its disposal. However, the rate at which atmospheric carbon (CO2 and CH4) was emitted during the PETM is at least 10 times slower than today’s anthropogenic emissions! What may have taken 3,000 years during the PETM, we are accomplishing within 300 years; in fact 200 million years of fossil fuel accumulation has been burned in about 160 years.

The essential point here is that it will take 100,000 to 200,000 years to get back to the “normal” climate we left behind us in the middle of the 20th century. On this, Dr. Scott Wing commented: “The effects last for 200,000 years. So this is a global shift, which to a geologist looks like a transient change, like a perturbation, like a blip, but to any sane human it’s forever.”

Where did PETM carbon emissions come from? Science does not have a definitive answer, but its four estimates, ranked from most likely to least likely are:

— methane bubbling up out of warmed deep ocean methane hydrates (ice-like solids trapping methane, produced by microbes feeding on decaying organic matter, and formed in the cold and high pressure at the bottom of oceans) and then oxidizing in the atmosphere (CH4 combining with oxygen to produce CO2 and water vapor);

— extensive wildfires that included the burning of peat deposits (because the burning of all terrestrial vegetation alone would have produced insufficient carbon, so the burning of peat would also have been necessary);

— volcanic intrusions into organic-rich sediments at the floor of North Atlantic off Scandinavia (a region of very active volcanism at the time) cooking the sediments to release CO2 and methane;

— the warming and oxidation of any permafrost that may have remained, and it giving up lots of carbon.

It is possible that a combination of these four effects may have occurred.

All the soils formed in the Big Horn Basin of Wyoming during the 200,000 years of the PETM have been compacted to stacked layers of sediments 40 meters thick in total. During the PETM that region had a warm dry tropical climate; bean plants proliferated. Before and after the PETM the climate was temperate and bean plants were absent from the Big Horn Basin (at least in the respective fossil records). During the first 150,000 years of the PETM, warm climate plants (like beans) moved north even to the Arctic, and then retreated south during the last 50,000 years of the PETM, with temperate climate plants reappearing.

Plants growing in a high CO2 environment make less green pigment and have lower nutritive value, so plant eaters have to eat more to sustain themselves, or evolve to smaller sizes to reduce their metabolic requirements. Animals and insects did both during the PETM. Ancient horses first appeared in America at the very beginning of the PETM, and they ‘quickly’ shrank in size by about 30% — to the size of domesticated cats today. With the uptake of CO2 at the close of the PETM and the return to ‘normal’ Eocene conditions, this species of tiny horses increased in size by 76%. A similar shrinkage of body size during the PETM occurred for the other mammal species present at the time, including primates.

The four major scientific lessons of the PETM are:

— big emissions of carbon into atmosphere result in warmer climate and more acidic oceans, and that acid seawater dissolves deep marine chalk (and kills marine organisms living in the lower few kilometers of the oceans because dissolved oxygen has been scavenged — hypoxia — and because shell formation, for the protective casings required by many marine organisms, is impossible because of the acidity);

— there are self-reinforcing cycles of carbon release with increased temperature: CO2 and CH4 capture and retain heat and warm the atmosphere; that warms the oceans and results in intermittent rainfall on the continents (heavy rains with long dry spells between); that causes an abundant growth of vegetation, which parches during the droughts and dry spells and feeds wildfires releasing more CO2, heating the atmosphere and oceans further; that leads to the dissociation of marine methane hydrates, which release methane gas and heat the atmosphere and oceans even further; a sequence of vicious cycles;

— rapid global warming changed where plants and animals lived and how they interacted (this is affecting 21st century people, too), and drove rapid evolution in the body sizes (shrinkage) of mammals;

— and the effects last for 200,000 years because it takes Nature that long to clear out the excess CO2 from the atmosphere and oceans.

What brought the CO2 concentrations down and ended the PETM? The process of photosynthesis in growing plants pulled CO2 out of the air and bound it into nutrients (sugars, glucose, plant tissues), which partially migrated into animal tissues as food. CO2 was also absorbed by the surfaces of the oceans, and reacted at depth with carbonate compounds to dissolve the sea floor chalk and acidify the seawater. Over a longer term, 10% to 30% of the excess CO2 was removed by weathering reactions in soils, and the erosion by rain and streams of rocks imprisoning CO2 carried sediments back to the oceans, where they settled out on the sea bottom. Long after the time scale of the PETM, those seafloor sediments would be interred by subduction at tectonic plate boundaries.

Carbon uptake is slow. A computer simulation of the instantaneous dumping of 5,000 billion tons of carbon into atmosphere (producing an atmospheric concentration of 2,500ppm of CO2, by volume) showed that:

— roughly half of the CO2 comes out in first 1,000 years;

— 30% to 40% still remains at 10,000 years;

— and it isn’t all removed until after 100,000 years, so by about 150,000 to 200,000 years as occurred with the PETM.

A visual representation of CO2 uptake follows (11)

For a detailed description of the CO2 uptake processes, see note (11).

Similar computer modeling has been done for our climate future out to year 3000. Assuming that the entire fossil fuel reservoir is burned up by year 2100, injecting 5,000 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere, the global temperature will rise to 4.5°C above datum by 2100 and remain there. Among the expected effects are a sea level rise of 1 meter by 2100, and 7.5 meters (25 feet) by year 3000 because the Greenland Ice Cap will have melted.

The major problem of having elevated global temperature for a long time — and it will be long since Nature takes “forever” to reabsorb atmospheric CO2 — is that major melting will eventually occur. As we are learning from direct observation today, that major melting may occur more rapidly than scientists were at first led to believe on the basis of their earlier computer modeling. If the Antarctic Ice Cap were also to entirely melt, sea level would be 66 meters (216 feet) higher in an ice-free world.

Could humanity today go on a furiously massive campaign to plant more trees and vegetation, so as to suck out excess CO2 from the atmosphere and stop global warming? No. We just can’t emplace enough plants to accomplish this, the rate of CO2 removal implied by this question is beyond the capability of Earth’s biosphere however lush. However, increasing the mass and area of vegetation (plants, trees) would slow the rates of CO2 accumulation and temperature increase, and help us lose ground (against the advance of global warming) less rapidly. So yes, plant!; it would also be a relief to wildlife sorely pressed with habitat losses.

Life in the Anthropocene

Geologists have recognized that we are now living in an epoch whose climate is fundamentally affected by human activity. That epoch has been termed the Anthropocene (12), and it was officially designated to have begun in the 4th quarter of 1965. (13)

“We have started the Anthropocene but the things that we think are untrammeled nature are already trammeled by us. There’s no eco-system on this planet that hasn’t had the human fingerprint on it some way or another. And many of the things that we think are beautiful and natural have already been modified by our ancestors, in ways that may not be obvious to us… What the Anthropocene perspective does is it helps us recognize that with [over] 7 billion people on the planet, and thousands of years, tens of thousands of years-long history already of modifying the planet, that it’s really too late to think about putting anything back the way it was,” Dr. Scott Wing.

I can think of 9 possible negative effects (mainly on human civilization) from severe global warming:

— reduced food production on land because of droughts and desertification, and a reduction of the nutritive value of crops because of high CO2 concentration;

— increased scarcity of fresh water, because of hot dry climatic conditions, intermittent rainfall, and huge population;

— the global spread of disease germs and usually tropical parasites, in a hotter world;

— loss of seafood with acidic seas, and increased starvation for animals and people;

— habitat losses for people, given significant coastal inundation and excessive heat and desertification in continental interiors;

— habitat losses for terrestrial wildlife as with humans, but also for marine life because of the reduced dissolved oxygen and increased acidity of the oceans;

— climate disaster-sparked mass migrations, which among humans will undoubtedly lead to clashes and even wars;

— resource scarcity wars (for basics like water, and for rarities like the semiconductor materials and metals essential to high tech electronics, and maybe in the extreme even for uranium deposits);

— increasingly heartless exclusion of the poor by the rich and powerful (a worldwide ‘Gazafication’ of the hapless poor).

We see some of each of these today, but the questions are: how much worse could it get?, and by when?

The development of human civilization over the last 10,000 years or so was aided by the benevolence of a very stable and moderate interglacial climate. In this new Anthropocene Epoch of increasing climate instability, we can anticipate major disruptions in human affairs, and given the socio-economic disparities and hostilities built into our human societies, we can anticipate the burdens of those disruptions to fall inequitably on poorer people. Misery will pushed down the gradient of wealth towards the destitute. In an extreme projection of pessimism, one could imagine conflicts of immiseration avoidance to devolve into extinction events, like a nuclear war.

However, the anticipated climate variations, like those of the PETM, will not in themselves be sufficiently extreme to force the actual physical extinction of humanity. In 7.95 billion years, when the Sun expands into a Red Giant star, then life on Planet Earth will be evaporated. But until such time, the most likely cause of a premature human extinction would be bad human behavior in response to the climate changes confronting humanity, and which we have caused.

It would be good for us to become familiar with how life is distributed in the Anthropocene, the epoch whose gallop we are spurring, so we can lead it more thoughtfully.

Humanity today comprises only 0.01% of all life on Planet Earth, but over the course of human history our species has destroyed 83% of wild mammal species. (14)

“The world’s 7.6 billion people [in May 2018] represent just 0.01% of all living things, according to the study. Yet since the dawn of civilisation, humanity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of plants, while livestock kept by humans abounds. The new work is the first comprehensive estimate of the weight of every class of living creature and overturns some long-held assumptions. Bacteria are indeed a major life form – 13% of everything – but plants overshadow everything, representing 82% of all living matter. All other creatures, from insects to fungi, to fish and animals, make up just 5% of the world’s biomass. Farmed poultry today makes up 70% of all birds on the planet, with just 30% being wild. The picture is even more stark for mammals – 60% of all mammals on Earth are livestock, mostly cattle and pigs, 36% are human and just 4% are wild animals.” Where is all that life to be found?: 86% on land, 1% in the oceans, and 13% as deep subsurface bacteria. (14)

One suggested marker for the Anthropocene are the bones of domestic chickens, which are now ubiquitous around the globe. The marker recognized has having achieved complete coverage over the surface of Planet Earth by late 1965 is radioactive fallout from atmospheric atomic and nuclear bomb explosions.

Our Challenge

Remember that the biggest threat to humanity’s survival is anti-social human behavior; climate change alone can’t kill us.

If we choose to experience our present and future of changing climate as a competitive war game — with actual killing and willful destruction — to gain class, factional and ideological advantages in terms of physical security, habitability, food production, natural resource availability, standard of living and social status (ego gratification), then that species-wide dysfunctional response could ultimately lead to a collapse of civilization, and at its worst to a global nuclear war and then actual human extinction.

If we choose to experience our present and future of changing climate as an intellectual challenge to human ingenuity for technical innovation, and as a moral challenge for social organization and for the elimination of socio-economic disparities, then such a species-wide response would improve the human condition regardless of the degree of future climate variability and the geographical distribution of its effects on habitability.

Regardless of what we do or don’t do, the climate will change in ways governed by majestic and interlocking geophysical cycles spanning millennia. Our individual and species-wide experiences of living within this implacable reality will be set by how we choose to interact with each other. Nirvana or perdition are choices entirely within our grasp.

Many will say that obviously climate change as competitive war game is the only realistic alternative because it requires no behavioral changes from our over 10,000 years of “civilized” human history, and because eco-socialism is pure utopianism and thus beyond all realistic actualization. And of course, eco-socialism is impossible in a world of Ahabs and fanatical Ahab followers. But all that is just an excuse to continue with bad behavior. There are no actual physical or biological constraints preventing people from choosing to associate in an eco-socialist manner. The current societal improbability for deeply cooperative behavior does not make future species-wide collective cooperation an impossibility. Responding to climate change could provide a framework on which to build such a species-wide socialist civilization.

So, how would I respond to the Ahabs out there who would tell me: “Everything you say is wrong! God is White! Trump is Christ! Capitalism is Salvation! Ye cannot swerve me!” From me: You can’t accept it because then you wouldn’t be the person you are. You can’t learn if you are unwilling to change. And that, ultimately, is what climate change will be for us: a challenge to learn.

And finally, Nature to Ahab: Ye cannot swerve me! Your world may return in 200,000 years.

Notes

(1) Herman Melville, Moby-Dick or, The Whale, (1851), Penguin Books, 1992.

(2) Sperm Whale,
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sperm_whale

(3) Carl Gustav Jung, C. G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters, Princeton University Press, 21 February 1987, edited by: William McGuire and R. F. C. Hull; “Diagnosing the Dictators” 1938, pages 115-135; “Jung Diagnoses the Dictators” 1939, pages 136-140; (dictators = Hitler, Stalin Mussolini).

(4) “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time,” (Robert Herrick)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_the_Virgins%2C_to_Make_Much_of_Time

(5) History of climate change science
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_climate_change_science

(6) Global Surface Temperature, 1900-2100
(relative to 1951-1980 average global surface temperature)
National Research Council 2011. Understanding Earth’s Deep Past: Lessons for Our Climate Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Figure 1.1, page 35 of the PDF file, page numbered 20 in the text.
Figure 1.1 SOURCE: IPCC (2007, Figure SPM.5, p. 14).
https://doi.org/10.17226/13111

(7) Global view answers ice age CO2 puzzle
April 4, 2012 — andyextance
https://simpleclimate.wordpress.com/2012/04/04/global-view-answers-ice-age-co2-puzzle/

The 800,000 year record of atmospheric CO2 from Antarctic ice cores, and a reconstruction of temperature based on hydrogen isotopes in the ice. The current [2012] CO2 concentration of 392 parts per million (ppm) is shown by the blue star. Credit: Jeremy Shakun/Harvard University

(8) 65 Million Years of Climate Change
(wikipedia, 13 July 2019)
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:65_Myr_Climate_Change.png

This figure shows climate change over the last 65 million years. The data are based on a compilation of oxygen isotope measurements (δ18O) on benthic foraminifera by Zachos et al. (2001) which reflect a combination of local temperature changes in their environment and changes in the isotopic composition of sea water associated with the growth and retreat of continental ice sheets.

Because it is related to both factors, it is not possible to uniquely tie these measurements to temperature without additional constraints. For the most recent data, an approximate relationship to temperature can be made by observing that the oxygen isotope measurements of Lisiecki and Raymo (2005) are tightly correlated to temperature changes at Vostok as established by Petit et al. (1999). Present day is indicated as 0. For the oldest part of the record, when temperatures were much warmer than today, it is possible to estimate temperature changes in the polar oceans (where these measurements were made) based on the observation that no significant ice sheets existed and hence all fluctuation in (δ18O) must result from local temperature changes (as reported by Zachos et al.).

The intermediate portion of the record is dominated by large fluctuations in the mass of the Antarctic ice sheet, which first nucleates approximately 34 million years ago, then partially dissipates around 25 million years ago, before re-expanding towards its present state 13 million years ago. These fluctuations make it impossible to constrain temperature changes without additional controls.

Significant growth of ice sheets did not begin in Greenland and North America until approximately 3 million years ago, following the formation of the Isthmus of Panama by continental drift. This ushered in an era of rapidly cycling glacials and interglacials.

Also appearing on this graph are the Eocene Climatic Optimum, an extended period of very warm temperatures, and the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (labeled PETM). The PETM is very short lived high temperature excursion possibly associated with the destabilization of methane clathrates and the rapid buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Due to the coarse sampling and averaging involved in this record, it is likely that the full magnitude of the PETM is underestimated by a factor of 2-4 times its apparent height.

(9) Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleocene%E2%80%93Eocene_Thermal_Maximum

(10) Global Warming 56 Million Years Ago, and What it Means For Us
30 January 2014
Dr. Scott Wing, Curator of Fossil Plants,
Smithsonian Museum of Natural History
Washington, DC
[1:44:12]
https://youtu.be/81Zb0pJa3Hg

(11) CO2 “lifetime” in the atmosphere
National Research Council 2011. Understanding Earth’s Deep Past: Lessons for Our Climate Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Figure 3.5, page 93 of the PDF file, page numbered 78 in the text.
https://doi.org/10.17226/13111

CO2 Sweepers and Sinks in the Earth System
The carbon fluxes in and out of the surface and sedimentary reservoirs over geological timescales are finely balanced, providing a planetary thermostat that regulates Earth’s surface temperature. Initially, newly released CO2 (e.g., from the combustion of hydrocarbons) interacts and equilibrates with Earth’s surface reservoirs of carbon on human timescales (decades to centuries). However, natural “sinks” for anthropogenic CO2 exist only on much longer timescales, and it is therefore possible to perturb climate for tens to hundreds of thousands of years (Figure 3.5). Transient (annual to century-scale) uptake by the terrestrial biosphere (including soils) is easily saturated within decades of the CO2 increase, and therefore this component can switch from a sink to a source of atmospheric CO2 (Friedlingstein et al., 2006). Most (60 to 80 percent) CO2 is ultimately absorbed by the surface ocean, because of its efficiency as a sweeper of atmospheric CO2, and is neutralized by reactions with calcium carbonate in the deep sea at timescales of oceanic mixing (1,000 to 1,500 years). The ocean’s ability to sequester CO2 decreases as it is acidified and the oceanic carbon buffer is depleted. The remaining CO2 in the atmosphere is sufficient to impact climate for thousands of years longer while awaiting sweeping by the “ultimate” CO2 sink of the rock weathering cycle at timescales of tens to hundreds of thousands of years (Zeebe and Caldeira, 2008; Archer et al., 2009). Lessons from past hyperthermals suggest that the removal of greenhouse gases by weathering may be intensified in a warmer world but will still take more than 100,000 years to return to background values for an event the size of the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM).

In the context of the timescales of interaction with these carbon sinks, the mean lifetime of fossil fuel CO2 in the atmosphere is calculated to be 12,000 to 14,000 years (Archer et al., 1997, 2009), which is in marked contrast to the two to three orders of magnitude shorter lifetimes commonly cited by other studies (e.g., IPCC, 1995, 2001). In addition, the equilibration timescale for a pulse of CO2 emission to the atmosphere, such as the current release by fossil fuel burning, scales up with the magnitude of the CO2 release. “The result has been an erroneous conclusion, throughout much of the popular treatment of the issue of climate change, that global warming will be a century-timescale phenomenon” (Archer et al., 2009, p. 121).

(12) Anthropocene
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropocene

(13) The Anthropocene’s Birthday
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2018/02/23/the-anthropocenes-birthday/

(14) Humans just 0.01% of all life but have destroyed 83% of wild mammals – study
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/21/human-race-just-001-of-all-life-but-has-destroyed-over-80-of-wild-mammals-study

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2° Institute
https://www.2degreesinstitute.org/

data sources for charts below
https://www.temperaturerecord.org/#sources

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American Climate Change Policy: You Don’t Matter

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American Climate Change Policy: You Don’t Matter

Some weary words spurred by: “Pickin’ and Choosin’ the Winners and Losers of Climate Change” (https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/06/24/pickin-and-choosin-the-winners-and-losers-of-climate-change/).

The pickin’ and the choosin’ of the winners and the losers of Climate Change was all set from the get-go. The Big Money was always going to win because the Big Money always does the pickin’. It’s the American Way. If there was ever any doubt among the blessedly naïve and trusting Demos Americanus about who counts and who doesn’t, then the spectacular publicly-funded deus-ex-machina salvation of the Wall Street Glitterati (WSG) from the financial cataclysm of 2008 should have forever laid to rest all such confusions. You don’t matter (you, because “they” don’t read here).

Nuclear war breaking out? They’re got reservations in the shelters; you’re out to the Big Fry. Ebola Bird Flu Pandemic 2020 racing ‘round the world? They’ve got guaranteed pills and vaccines; you’ve got aspirin, Go-Fund-Me healthcare, and are designated anti-vaxxer by default. Climate Change hurricanes, floods, droughts and crop failures pouncing on you? They’ll stay fat, dumb, happy high-and-dry under Uncle Sam’s caressing wings; you’ll be a pioneer rugged individualist facing off against the sun, with act-of-god cancelled insurance, sucking dried marrow out of bones from drought-kills for your heroic survival (for a month or two).

There is no such thing as Climate Change denial from the Trumpian Monarchy and the Royal Court of WSG’ers, it is all calculated Climate Change delay-ism, stalling propaganda (https://redgreenandblue.org/2019/06/20/trumps-climate-change-denial-red-team-trots-old-debunked-lies/), as Val Eisman remarked to me. In short: premeditated murder (https://manuelgarciajr.com/2017/09/09/climate-change-denial-is-murder/). This has been obvious for decades, but unseen by so many in the Demos Americanus with their touching wishful fantasies of caring and at worst benign bumbling rulers, clouding their persistently innocent eyes.

Saving everybody from the impending catastrophes of Climate Change is a task too gargantuan for accomplishing by individual efforts alone, even if in their simultaneous billions. It requires the complete attention and commitment to, and investment in, by all governments of the Industrialized World operating collectively and cooperatively. It would be the War Against Our Own Fossil-Fueled Frankensteinian Stupidity. But, your caring news media and governments want to reassure you that the time is not quite right to panic ‘ourselves’ into this unrealistic and unwise waste of (“their”) money (on you!), maybe down the road it will get more serious: delayism.

However, the panic to protect the divine right of the Big Money Kleptocracy to stay in the tax-free unearned income black is the foundational original sin of our (really their) capitalist nirvana. So, you can rest assured that the US Treasury printing presses will crank out any uncountable number of trillions of dollars — backed by the full faith and credit of the US military, and your tax offerings — to build whatever physical and socio-economic dikes are necessary to hold back the anticipated disasters to be spun off of Climate Change, and which could otherwise dampen the enthusiasm of WSG’ers in their enjoyment of mindless consumption (what they call “life,” but in the style of Dracula). Saving them is guaranteed, after all they are so few and they own everything anyway so why waste “the money” on who’s already designated waste?, it’s a no-brainer.

What can you do about it? Dream about guillotines, I guess, or watch big-screen TV cartoon super-hero movies and sport championships whose scores you’ll forget by next season; or get drunk if it won’t make you miss work and you have enough rent money; or buy lottery tickets and dream about sitting at the right hand of Ubu Roi hisself. You’re free to choose any of these. Just don’t let your corpse block the entrance to The Club when you go.

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American Climate Change Policy: You Don’t Matter
27 June 2019
https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/06/27/american-climate-change-policy-you-dont-matter/

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