It Looks As If My Hopes For A Global Financial Crash Are In Vain

It’s late Monday morning on the west coast (Canada) and markets are recovering after huge, but apparently unsustainable “losses” at opening this morning. Damn, it looked as if there might actually be something positive for me in tonight’s news. I’ll just have to settle for the usual; Canada – lawmakers breaking the law and lying about it under oath, and America – views on the economy by President-In-Waiting Trump . . . another evening of Cookie Jam on Facebook I guess.

Economic Growth, as measured by GDP simply means the amount of money changing hands, normally going from the poor to the rich. Earthquakes, war, highway carnage, increasing death rates from lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, obesity and cardio-vascular disease all cause GDP to rise. To be balanced, so does actual production. Usually I prefer to be un-balanced.

For an economy to grow, something has to shrink and, with the proliferation of free-trade capitalism, the main loser is our home planet. Earth is the only home humans have or ever will have unless you think that a one-way ticket to Mars to live out your life in small pod, recycling your bodily wastes to stay alive qualifies as an alternate home.

Forests turning to desert, water supplies drying up or turning toxic, temperatures and sea levels rising, accelerating species extinction, massive migration of humanity in search of food and water; these and other less obvious tears in the interconnected fabric of life on Earth are directly attributable to growth driven economics. If it doesn’t stop, humans would be just one more species on the list of extinctions if there were anyone left to keep score.

One more thing about the present economic system, it cannot be simply fine tuned to bring growth down to zero and then continue to be used. This has to do with how the growth occurs through the creation of debt and how the debt is eliminated through the creation of money. In actual fact, the debt will never be paid off and was never intended to be, except for that portion which is owed by the ordinary citizens of the countries involved. The system must be completely broken and a new system which cares about people and the Earth must replace it.

There are alternatives.

Zero Growth economics, Steady State economics, Resource Based economics, barter, local currency, local economies, time banking, gifting, re-establishing the Commons, co-operatives, communes, reciprocity and any activity which is conducted co-operatively instead of competitively would all help to build a sufficient, sustainable and resilient society, something that we do not currently have.

Civilization has been an enormously disruptive and destructive force and cannot continue as is. In the past and at present, human efforts have been directed towards propping up this unsustainable endeavor by dividing life into 2 catogories; humans and everything else.

So far, the Human has mustered enough ingenuity to supress all other life-forms and still continue to proliferate. Civilization has covered such a short span of time, less than 500 years of the 500,000 years of modern human life, the 15,000,000 years of the family Hominidae, and the 2,100,000,000 years of life-on-Earth that a future alien Anthropologist (oxymoron intended) would have trouble believing that one species could have caused a major die-off which included itself in such short order.

So I’m hoping we don’t manage to do it. However, it is obvious that we will not make any of the right decisions to set ourselves on a better course so we will need outside help. Maybe the irony will be that the complex systems (such as perpetual-growth economics) we have devised but are unable to control will turn on us and bring the whole quaking edifice down around us.

I was hoping that would happen today.

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What Might Happen Next and Why it has Scientists So Frightened

This is one section from an article in Rolling Stone titled

“The Point of No Return: Climate Change Nightmares Are Already Here”


Thanks to the pressure we’re putting on the planet’s ecosystem — warming, acidification and good old-fashioned pollution — the oceans are set up for several decades of rapid change. Here’s what could happen next.

The combination of excessive nutrients from agricultural runoff, abnormal wind patterns and the warming oceans is already creating seasonal dead zones in coastal regions when algae blooms suck up most of the available oxygen. The appearance of low-oxygen regions has doubled in frequency every 10 years since 1960 and should continue to grow over the coming decades at an even greater rate.

So far, dead zones have remained mostly close to the coasts, but in the 21st century, deep-ocean dead zones could become common. These low-oxygen regions could gradually expand in size — potentially thousands of miles across — which would force fish, whales, pretty much everything upward. If this were to occur, large sections of the temperate deep oceans would suffer should the oxygen-free layer grow so pronounced that it stratifies, pushing surface ocean warming into overdrive and hindering upwelling of cooler, nutrient-rich deeper water.

Enhanced evaporation from the warmer oceans will create heavier downpours, perhaps destabilizing the root systems of forests, and accelerated runoff will pour more excess nutrients into coastal areas, further enhancing dead zones. In the past year, downpours have broken records in Long Island, Phoenix, Detroit, Baltimore, Houston and Pensacola, Florida.

Evidence for the above scenario comes in large part from our best understanding of what happened 250 million years ago, during the “Great Dying,” when more than 90 percent of all oceanic species perished after a pulse of carbon dioxide and methane from land-based sources began a period of profound climate change. The conditions that triggered “Great Dying” took hundreds of thousands of years to develop. But humans have been emitting carbon dioxide at a much quicker rate, so the current mass extinction only took 100 years or so to kick-start.

With all these stressors working against it, a hypoxic feedback loop could wind up destroying some of the oceans’ most species-rich ecosystems within our lifetime. A recent study by Sarah Moffitt of the University of California-Davis said it could take the ocean thousands of years to recover. “Looking forward for my kid, people in the future are not going to have the same ocean that I have today,” Moffitt said.

As you might expect, having tickets to the front row of a global environmental catastrophe is taking an increasingly emotional toll on scientists, and in some cases pushing them toward advocacy. Of the two dozen or so scientists I interviewed for this piece, virtually all drifted into apocalyptic language at some point.

Read more:

Some Things Never Change (but should) — Other Things Should Stabilize (but don’t)

Monday, June 29, 2015

After posting the following to Facebook earlier today, I thought it might be interesting to re-visit a blog post I did 8 1/2 years ago regarding population growth.

Here’s what looks like a pretty reasonable take on one of the looming, global collapses. Others would be water shortages, disease, financial and monetary breakdown, human displacement and war over any and all remaining resources. Another possibility is extreme runaway climate change although the timescale for that still looks to be longer with the possible exception of massive release of methane from hydrates and permafrost. Fixing anything less than all of these possibilities will only shift the odds of the order in which they occur.

First, the 2007 post, then an update below:


Friday, February 2, 2007

The 6.5 Billion Horsemen of the Apocalypse

It has taken a very long time for politicians to accept the obvious with respect to climate change. We must remember that, in our democratic system, politicians are elected by all of us to represent us and this is probably the main reason why they will never tackle any problem which requires a solution that creates even a small hardship for the majority of us. They fear, rightly so, that they will fail to be re-elected.

There are several of these unpopular issues which are pushing our world towards the point of not being able to sustain human life. These are ‘Growth’ factors, most of which are paradoxically looked at as increasing our quality and enjoyment of life. Population, economy, consumerism, jobs, wealth, all these have been looked at as being able to grow continuously and without end. Believing this is obviously even more ridiculous than denying the effects of climate change.

During my lifetime, world population has tripled from just over 2 billion to 6.5 billion. During that time, the earth has not become any bigger and, in fact, the basic resources which sustain life, arable land, drinkable water, oxygen producing plants, have all been decreasing. It seems obvious that we have already passed the point of sustainability and that only 2 strategies will help: population reduction, preferably by reducing the birth rate to below the death rate for the foreseeable future, or, reducing the world standard of living to subsistence level while holding the population steady and apportioning the existing resources evenly amongst all people.

Although this may sound like a ‘socialist scheme to suck money out of wealth-producing countries’ [Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper’s description of the Kyoto Protocol], I see it as a last ditch effort to produce a soft landing to the end of the capitalist dominated world order. Those of us fortunate enough to live in the ‘wealth-producing countries’ will probably feel the results of non-action even more that those who are currently at an economic disadvantage.

One of the most likely mechanisms for uncontrolled population reduction would be a massive pandemic and pandemics would be felt much more quickly by the travelers from the developed world than by nomads or villagers. In any case, such massive and uncontrolled depopulation would cause a complete breakdown of order and infrastructure throughout the world so no one would escape the chaos, anarchy and destruction.

Perhaps we should be looking for politicians who are touting ‘population shrinkage’, ‘economic decline’ or ‘wealth redistribution’. Get out on the street now and campaign before governments start to rebuild the mental health institutions they closed to save your money. While they have now found that there is no where to put so many of the homeless and addicted who have mental health problems, there is also no where for them to put you, so you just might be able to get your message out without disappearing. Lots of luck


So, what has changed in 8 1/2 years?

First, the population of Earth is no longer 6.5 billion, it has grown to 7.3 billion, an increase of 800,000,000 which by itself would make a new country ranking 3rd in world population – 2.5 times the size of the USA.

Financial inequality has also grown throughout the world as Free Market Capitalism continues its role of transfering wealth from the poor to the rich, particularly in industrialized nations.

The level of atmospheric carbon dioxide in February 2007 was 381 ppm, it is now 404 ppm. Methane, nitrous oxide and water vapour (due to the warmer atmosphere) have also increased.

Summer Arctic sea ice is set to disappear completely in the near future, land-based ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are melting at rates unprecedented in human history as are mountain glaciers. A little bit of research will show anyone who is interested what these things mean for the future of our “Blue Dot” home.

The world’s oceans are warming, acidifying, rising, containing larger and larger “dead zones” and less and less fish. Corals, phytoplankton, zooplankton, sea grasses, river estuaries and mangroves are under threat everywhere and these are the food sources and protection of most of the ocean’s juvenile fishes. Consequently, oceanic fish populations are being reduced at rates equivalent to or greater than during the previous five great extinction events.

And, what hasn’t changed?

Greed, economic growth, the way we measure success, our outrageous lifestyles, a lack of leadership – these are the things that never seem to change. Add to this a refusal by the richest nations to accept the damage they have caused and continue to cause and an astonishing abandonment by individuals and society of responsibility towards other species as well as future generations of our own.

Suzuki’s Bus Driver

One evening some time ago, I watched an interview of Dr. David Suzuki by George Stroumboulopoulos on CBC television. George started with a very simple, lead-in question (it doesn’t take too much to prime David Suzuki’s pump!) and Suzuki jumped up into the “Big Red Chair”, assumed a position close enough to the classic “Lotus” for me to wince, and started — I can’t claim to a perfect memory of the following but it think it is very close:

People say I always look like I’m pissed off, well I AM pissed off. It’s as if we are all on a bus travelling at a million miles an hour, straight at a precipice. Nobody’s saying “Hit the brakes”, nobody’s saying “Turn the wheels”, we’re all just milling around, trying to find the best seat.

So, who hired the bus driver — we did. That’s what our vaunted democratic process has been twisted into, an instrument to find and appoint a bus driver who will drive us all over a cliff. Even though we are travelling a million miles an hour it seems it is still too far from the edge for us to understand what is being done to us. In any case, we think that before we get there we will have expired, been thrown off the bus and replaced with younger generations. Maybe not, it is looking like the timing is much shorter than we had estimated from computer models .

American novelist James Howard Kunstler called the constellation of crises surrounding global climate change “The Long Emergency” and our human brains have not had enough evolutionary time to react to slow-moving disasters instead of to fast-moving predators suddenly appearing in our field of vision. Consequently, we may be able to see the logic but we are overwhelmed by the complexity we need to deal with to find solutions. We are like a herd of deer-in-the-headlights, trying to determine which way to run when the only bad decision is to stand still and do nothing.

The Long Emergency will play out over generations, but the end result will be the same unless the world’s leaders start taking massive action NOW! By “leaders” I do not mean those we have elected, I mean real leaders who can see what needs to be done and do it.

These will be people whose consciousness functions at a level far above that of Suzuki’s Bus Driver and more like that of the man himself.

Are Humans Capable of Acting as if the Earth Really Mattered?

This post is about a small excerpt from an interview with author Susan Meeker-Lowry (Economics As If The Earth Really Mattered: A Catalyst Guide to Socially Conscious Investing – New Society Publishers, 1988) conducted during the late 1980’s. This interview appears in “Turtle Talk: Voices For A Sustainable Future”, a collection of interviews done by Christopher Plant and Judith Plant for The New Catalyst magazine.


Susan Meeker Lowry: . . . We have to look at longer term strategies with more spiritual, natural and community kinds of rewards.

TNC: In today’s world that seems a difficult prospect. What do you think the chances are of people choosing a lifestyle change and the future of the planet over the immediate prospect of jobs and money?

Susan Meeker Lowry: I think that the chances are getting better every day because the Earth is speaking very loudly. I believe that more and more people are aware that if we don’t start changing things today we will not have that option in 5 or 6 years—it will be too late. People don’t want to hear this, they want to run away. But if we can be there at every turn, saying, “there is no escape,” forcing people to face reality, and then work with them in the community to give them hope… We have to do it—we’ve all got kids. We have to believe it’s possible to change.


First, notice the two instances of “believe”. This is a good illustration of the reason I try not to use that word for anything that has not been scientifically proven beyond doubt, resonable or otherwise – I would use “hope”.

Also, remember that this interview was conducted in the late 1980’s. If science is correct in assigning a 30 year inertial lag between CO2 emissions and their effects on climate, we are experiencing the effects of emissions happening at the time of the interview and they were experiencing those made when I first started working in the late 1950’s.

A reminder – world population (billions): 1958 –  2.9, 1988 – 5.1, 2015 – 7.3

. . . and atmospheric CO2 levels (ppm): 1958 – 315, 1988 – 350, 2015 – 400

So here we are in 2015. Earth is speaking more loudly than ever, people still don’t want to hear and I rarely get as far as “there is no escape” before they have run away. I also have no idea how to “force” people who are so heavily invested in a fantasy to face reality. I do know that, if you mention “lifestyle change” in a group of people, sure enough, they run away. That may change my lifestyle for the better but it won’t do anything for my grandkids.

The end of Canada as we have known it – but is that a bad thing?

Click here – Chris Hedges on C-51: They have won, and it is up to us – for the article that motivated me to write these comments.

From my perspective, the Nation-State model is well past its best-before-date and needs to be brought to an end. My preference would be an absolute breakdown of the global financial/monetary/economic system as I think that would be the least damaging to the majority of ordinary citizens of most countries.

Less damaging certainly than unrestricted global war over the last of the non-renewable resources and those that, while technically renewable, have been depleted beyond their ability to recover.

Less damaging than monstrous pandemics that blind-side us from unexpected sources, incubate and travel on our vaunted air travel networks to every corner of the Earth before showing their true colours.

Less damaging even than critical food shortages caused by climate change related droughts, land and ocean based species die-offs and the worldwide inability to move goods safely and expediently.

And less damaging than the chaos caused by the massive migration of humanity away from the tropics and former temperate zones towards the poles.

So . . . What’s Up?

Homo Sapiens is the only species of life we know which has the abilities to choose how it lives in the world. Right now, we are living in a dangerously destructive manner and threatening all life on Earth, including our own.


Imagine a large flock of birds living in a mature, deciduous tree – a Big Leaf Maple in my part of the world. These birds have found a food source in the seeds of the tree and an even better one in the insects that live in and under the tree’s bark which they can expose by pecking and pulling the bark off the tree trunk. Ideal nest building material is available within walking distance from the small root fibres of the tree which the birds scratch up with their feet and pull off with their beaks. Life is good and the flock thrives, increasing its population with every passing year.

Until the catastrophe. One spring the tree buds do not appear; there will be no seeds in the fall. Insects are plentiful and easy to obtain as what bark is left is now dry, curled up and easy to knock off the tree. When the birds run down to the ground to gather nesting material, they find that the rootlets are also dry and do not bend into a suitable shape for nest building. With the females ready to lay, a decision is made to move to another tree.

There are no other Big Leaf Maples nearby as no seeds have survived to germinate for many years. The birds find that their wing structure has atrophied from lack of use and they can no longer fly well enough to reach another stand. Eventually, the eggs are laid in shallow nests on the ground but predators ensure that none hatch. Although the mature birds survive well enough for their normal lifespan, no new chicks are ever produced and the species is extirpated from that locale.


Now imagine a massive population of large, self-aware mammels living in a way that destroys all the resources they rely on for life.The air they breathe, the water they drink, the food they eat, the clothing and shelter that protects them from the elements. Oceans are acidified, soils made barren, forests denuded, grasslands turned to deserts, wetlands drained, aquifers polluted or emptied, severe storms amplified. Evidence abounds to show that the change being made by humans during the anthropocene epoch is greater and compressed into a shorter time period than corresponding changes during any of the five preceding great extinction events.

Many non-scientific people believe that new and wonderous technologies will emerge to save humanity and the rest of life from these depredations. Perhaps this accounts for the popularity of fantasy, magic, wizardry, super-heroism and other phantasmagorical subjects in current fiction. So far the two most promising candidates for feeding ourselves might be Soylent Green, which was foreshadowed in a 1973 Hollywood movie and Soylent Pink, which we already have in abundance.

Looking for ideas for the weekend? Soylent Green and 1984 would make a good pairing for a depressing late-night home theatre extravaganza.

A Reason For Celebration

. . . . . and now, something completely different for this blog and, hopefully for your thoughts. An ecological book about the place of the human species in the cosmos — written by a Roman Catholic priest; and a passage from the Old Testament — quoted by me!

(From Wikipedia) Thomas Berry, C.P. (November 9, 1914 – June 1, 2009) was a Catholic priest of the Passionist order, cultural historian and ecotheologian (although cosmologist and geologian – or “Earth scholar” – were his preferred descriptors). Among advocates of deep ecology and “ecospirituality” he is famous for proposing that a deep understanding of the history and functioning of the evolving universe is a necessary inspiration and guide for our own effective functioning as individuals and as a species.

The following excerpt is from his book ‘The Great Work’ – 1999


Even beyond the Earth, the sense of community would extend throughout the entire universe seen as a single coherent community that has emerged into being with a total dependece of each component on all the others. Indeed, we need to think of the universe as the supreme norm of reality and value, with all component members of the universe participating in this context, each in accord with its own proper role.


This was a great validation for me of a point I have been trying to make about the need to raise human conciousness in order for us to recognize the need to take action against the aggregation of crises we have created and which now threatens the very continuance of our species.

If this view of the universe could be brought into the common conscience it would be a great cause for celebration, not trepidation and all that would be left would be the event which would allow us to “see the face of God” as explained in Exodus 33:20 (NIV) – But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”

Field Notes From THE Catastrophe

I recently began reading “Field Notes From a Catastrophe” – Elizabeth Kolbert, 2006 and was initially happy to have found the ideal first book for those who are new to concerns about THE catastrophe(s) which will shape the future of human life on Planet Earth. To explain the oddity of the expression THE catastrophe(s), THE is capitalized to indicate the only issue that really counts in the present human condition and the appended pluralism highlights that this issue is a tightly interconnected “perfect storm” of crises.

This book is concise – 187ppg for the main body; accurate – with a couple of very minor and inconsequential errors in science (based on other sources); and should be eminently understandable by anyone with the equivalent of a Canadian high school education. Elizabeth Kolbert is a very experienced journalist (New York Times, New Yorker magazine) and obviously takes great pains and knows how do do her research. Her sources are a Who’s Who of legitimate experts on, the Arctic, climate modelling, ancient civilizations, biology, US politics and ocean levels.

The only reasons I am presently depressed by this book is that I have had to relive all the missed opportunities since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the G.W. Bush fiasco of America, the grotesque degradation of Canada by Stephen Harper – not mentioned in the book but ever-present in my thoughts – and the exposure of the depth of greed, ignorance and stupidity of the biological species of which I am a part.

However, of the fifty-some-odd books I have read over the past several years relating to these interconnected crises, I would strongly recommend this one as a place to start a serious exploration of our future under continuance of the business-as-usual model of civilization.

When my generation entered parenthood in the 1960’s, we thought we were bringing children into a world that was improving and would keep doing so as far as we could see into the future. In actuality I can now look back and see that, by the end of that decade, my own Quality of Life had begun to descend. I now look at Standard of Living as measured by GDP – the total amount of money we spend annually as a nation – and Quality of Life as quantified only be a general feeling of well-being, as being in reverse relationship – as the first goes up, the second goes down.

This feeling is corroborated by the increasing incidence of psychological illness, stress, obesity; environmentally forced or lifestyle diseases such as asthma, COPD, novel forms of cancer, diabetes; and zoonotic diseases which take advantage of over-crowding and human movement into previously unoccupied areas.

So – what to do?

First, we can stop reproducing ourselves. Obviously, that won’t happen. However, even to leave our descendants a chance of what we would consider to be a liveable life, we need to achieve large reductions in population. If we don’t, part of the un-liveableness of future human life will be nature’s way of dealing with over-population – pandemic. Perhaps we are currently seeing early, and so far controllable manifestations of this with HIV/AIDS, Ebola and related hemorrhagic fevers; avian, porcine and possibly equine Influenzas; the re-occurrence of mumps and measles and the mysterious polio-like disease affecting children in the US.

In order for the viral world to mount a horror show that would top anything Hollywood has ever produced, a single strain could evolve the following traits — it would be zoonotic (able to pass between species including human like a number of avian influenzas), pass from human to human through aerosols as easily as measles, have a long incubation period and be as deadly as ebola. Currently, virologists are saying that this is not likely to occur but, on the other hand, a bit of reading about past viral evolution seems to indicate that anyone who expresses confidence about what viruses may or may not do next is skating on thin ice. One outbreak of such a virus near a large city and 3 weeks of worldwide air traffic should lead to the normal pattern of those who look after the sick being the second wave and those who look after disposal of bodies being the third and nothing much left but to roll the credits.

Second, we can stop denying the science and the voluminous evidence all around us that massive change is already happening and start demanding that our so-called leaders do something to counter it. Reduction of lifestyle, sustainable energy, the end of economic growth, universal education (especially of girls), localization and raising individual levels of consciousness would all be good places to start. You can start this last one right now with a trip to your public library.

You might point out that the changes outlined above will never be initiated by democratically elected officials and you would be right — so maybe it’s time to take a second look at anarchy (if we do nothing we will get it anyway). Or just to realize that business-as-usual, including nation states and their political and economic systems are “just so 20th century” and get our butts into the 21st. It has already been here for 15 years for those who have been too busy shopping to notice.

The world may be in good hands after all (just not for a couple of generations).

For those of us who understand the crises facing Humanity and our home planet Earth later in the 21st century, getting people to become informed and then demanding that our “Leadership” do the same and start making changes often seems like an un-climbable mountain. We sit ourselves down at the TV every night to watch the Capitalist News – opinions of the corporate elite being spread like propaganda by news media owned by – the corporate elite of course. The resulting “Evening News” bears little resemblance to reality, but presents the fantasy of a future just like the past – only BIGGER and BETTER! And, because we want to believe the fantasy, we do. And because we do, we make no attempt to ameliorate our ways of living to save something for those who come after us.

But there is hope.

Brigette DePape, Tamo Campos and Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois represent the second generation beyond mine – and what great representatives they are! It is true that all three of these heroes have broken the law or very strict rules, and have had to face consequences. To some people, this makes them look like bad people but they are not. In fact, they are some of the best people our country has as citizens and the actions they have taken put the rest of us to shame. When laws are made to favour those who make them at the expense of others, they must be broken; and broken again and again until they are stricken from the codes that govern our society. It takes heroes to do that and that is exactly what these young people are – heroes.

Future

If you don’t know the stories of these brave, young people here is a good place to start your quest in an article from —

While it comforting to celebrate the presence of a younger generation which seems to be taking an interest in looking after their own future, this should in no way let we-who-have-done-the-damage off the hook for reducing our over the top lifestyles and beginning the repairs. Three years of reading have given me a reasonable idea of the on-going damage, probably 40 author’s ideas on what can be done at this point and a sobering view of what cannot be repaired in the foreseeable future regardless of the level of effort.

I hope that I can provide some support for the young heroes mentioned above and all those that have already joined in by opening up some eyes and softening some hearts towards the plight of the generations we will leave behind on our threatened Earth when we depart. I am convinced that, if we can make the massive societal change that is called for, we will find that the loss of thousands of acres of mini-storage and millions of basements, garages and outbuildings full of junk will bring a huge relief of stress and a much higher quality of life to all of us.