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.

Different Strokes . . . (of the pen)

I have just finished reading Derrick Jensen”s “Endgame – Volume II : Resistance”; and started “The Long Descent” by John Michael Greer (2008). Jensen sees the end of the Industrial Age as sudden and catastrophic and councels the hastening of that event by whatever means we have at our disposal. The reason for this is to save as many resources as possible for the rebuilding of society by following generations. I don’t take exception to any of his thinking as described in the book.

Greer, on the other hand, sees the end coming as a long and painful descent to a time with a much smaller population to match the much more limited residue of resources. This has been the result of the ending of most, if not all previous civilizations which have simply run out of  resources as we are currently doing. His councel is to keep looking ahead at reality, transition as painlessly as can be done and emphasize the retention of culture and knowledge where possible.  I also agree with his premises and view for the future.

A third route into the future is the one we are currently following, pretend the crises don’t exist and carry on with the status quo — this route will, without question be the most damaging to Earth and may well leave humanity with no chance of survival. At the very least, isolated pockets of our descendants would have a place in nature similar to the earliest of the human species — both predator and prey.

Below is an excerpt from “The Long Descent” —


” . . . Imagine that someone, confronted with a diagnosis of a life-threatening illness, insisted instead that he would live forever. For that reason, he refused either to treat the illness or make sure his family had some means of support in the event of his death. He would be considered completely irresponsible by most people — and for good reason. This is exactly the collective situation we’re in right now. For more than three decades we’ve known exactly what factors are pushing industrial society towards its own collapse, and it’s no secret what has to be done to make the transition to sustainability, but the vast majority of people in the industrial world remain unwilling to embrace the necessary changes — and nothing currently suggests that they are interested in thinking about the generations in the future who will grow up in the ruins of our society.

At this point it’s almost certainly too late to manage a transition to sustainability on a global or national scale, even if the political will to attempt it existed — which it clearly does not. It’s not too late, though, for individuals, groups, and communities to make the transition themselves, and to do what they can to preserve essential cultural and practical knowledge for the future. The chance that today’s political and business interests will do anything useful in our present situation is small enough that it’s probably not worth considering.  . . .”


I see these 2 concepts as complementary rather than opposing. At my age (75), I can’t move quickly enough to take part in “removing” dams to let the salmon back up the river without getting caught but I can have a place in at least promoting intentional communities, shelters built from natural materials, permaculture, steady-state economics and other ways of living on the land without destroying it, something that Aldo Leopold said we had never learned how to do. That way, the dam removers will have a place to hang out between gigs and nutritious food to keep their strength (and speed) up.

Will Geoengineering Fix Us or Otherwise?

geoeng
This is a very dangerous concept and I will tell you why.

As I have said elsewhere on this blog, anywhere else I can and to everyone who will listen to me (a small but important minority), we have lost our sense of who and what we are and where we fit in the continuum of life on Earth. We do not understand the effects we have on the biosphere and cannot comprehend the degree to which we are interconnected with everything, living or not, on the only home we have – Spaceship Earth. We tend to think that we are special, so special that we can think, design and work our way out of any problem we may encounter, especially if we might cause problems ourselves – as unlikely as that may seem to us.

Experience tells a very different story. Our attempts to design, build and manage complex systems such as equitable economic systems, corruption-free political systems, healthy and sustainable food production systems, global peace initiatives, sustainable energy supply systems and many others have, over time, degenerated into at least partial, sometimes catastrophic, failure. Effects from a number of these human-designed systems have had and continue to have massively disruptive impact on natural systems such as climate, terrestrial and oceanic food chains, agricultural soils as well as the on-going realities of poverty and war.

So, having disrupted the global climate system to the point of threatening our very existence, we now think we can design and build fixes to re-stabilize it to something like it was naturally before the industrial revolution. And we think we can re-design plants and animals to better suit them for use by humans without disturbing the myriad species with which they currently interact in the wild.


Now a bit from the author of the article referenced above:

In his new book, A Case for Climate Engineering, [Canadian environmental engineer David] Keith says that geoengineering is a “brutally ugly technical fix.” He cheerfully admits that he has a lot of qualms about it as a technology that could have dangerous and unintended consequences, and that it doesn’t address the root cause of climate change: the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

“I think the important point is that it’s not hard to do, that all the hard questions are about whether we should do it, who controls it, how well it works.”


. . . and what if it doesn’t (work) but does have those “dangerous and unintended consequences”? Who we gonna call . . . Ghostbusters??

If we really are intent on placing mirrors in orbit around the earth, rather than having them face the sun so we can “control” the amount of radiant energy reaching Earth, I would vote for turning them around so we could look up into the sky and see ourselves for the fools we really are.

The Mountain Pine Beetle as positive feedback loop

Twenty years ago in British Columbia, two facts were well understood and widely known in the scientific community:

  1. The population of the Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB) was being kept in check by the die-off due to the coldest winter temperatures.
  2. Winter temperatures were rising due to the increasing level of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Was there no one person who noticed that these two established facts, when taken together, spelled disaster for BC’s lodgepole pine forests? If there was, did they not speak up and try to sound a warning? If they did, why was that warning not heeded and why did it never make it into public awareness?

There would seem to be only three possibilities that would answer the above questions, criminal negligence, or unbelievable stupidity would have to have taken place in the scientific community or the governing bodies to which they answered, or one or other of these bodies would have been corrupted by bribes by an outside party or parties.MPB damage in British Columbia
Scientists are not known for being negligent or stupid and only in rare cases corruptible, same for the govenors of universities. This leaves private corporations and government departments who employ scientists as the most likely places for the supression of impending disaster to have taken place. Take your pick — increasingly in recent years, governments have been shown to be emminently corruptible and the sources of such corruption have been shown to be private corporations.

For those who still think that Global warming is a new and unproven idea, the concept first entered the scientific literature in 1824 when French physicist Joseph Fourier postulated the “greenhouse effect”. By the 1850’s, Irish physicist John Tyndall had come up with a way to actually test and measure the effect and by 1858 had effectively proven Fourier’s theory. At the end of the 19th century, Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius estimated that a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide would increase Earth’s temperature by 3.8 degrees Fahrenheit, a figure within the IPCC’s estimate of 3.6 to 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit for a doubling of CO2 from 19th century levels — stop protesting the truth and do some reading.

So we come to the Positive Feedback Loop aspect of the MPB wintering through, it goes like this:

  • Excess CO2 from various sources, notably the burning of fossil fuels, enters the atmosphere and increases the insulating blanket of the greenhouse effect
  • In areas where conditions are right, pine trees grow and utilize CO2 from the air for that growth. This immobilizes or sequesters the carbon in the structure of the trees and, if conditions remain stable, the system will reach eqilibrium.
  • As increasing amounts of greenhouse gases are emitted beyond the growth of the trees’ (or other ecological services) ability to sequester, the atmosphere warms up and minimum winter temperatures increase above the level required to keep the MPB population under control
  • MPB attack and kill vast swaths of pine trees across areas previously under the control of cooler temperatures
  • After a period of a few years, most of the dead pine falls and begins to break down. This breakdown (rotting or increase of entropy) of the wood releases greenhouse gases such as CO2 – carbon dioxide, and CH4 – methane to enter the atmosphere and reinforce the greenhouse effect

So the loop is that emission of greenhouse gases eventually causes the breakdown of wood structure, which causes an increase in the emission of greenhouse gases. This is known as a POSITIVE feedback look because the cause is reinforced by the effect, not because the result is necessarily positive from a human point of view.

Elephant has Left the Room (not to mention the building)

As I have read through a stack of books in the last two years about the on-rushing convergence of crises threatening Earth and all complex life forms, I kept bumping into half-remembered discussions from forty to fifty years years ago. Discussions fogged at the time by alcohol and smoke and dimmed over the years by the hectic pace of life, a plethora of perceived priorities and a subconscious wish to forget. Discussions birthed from ideas in books like Silent Spring, The Population Bomb and The Limits to Growth.

Similar discussions among those a few years younger may have compelled them to settle in the West Kootenays area around Nelson, on Lasquiti Island and in resource-based villages in BC that had used up their resources. They essentially dropped out of the up-tight world of careers, corporations and country clubs to live a simple, organic, back-to-the-land lifestyle. Many young Americans, angered by their country’s growing imperialist ambitions and dysfunctional political system opted to escape by coming north and adding to the bucolic landscape of the youthful, “hippy” counter-culture movement of these areas.

Predictably, the warnings about using up Earth’s resources and the dangers of chemical contamination were vigorously fought against by the corporations who were carrying out the destruction and discounted by government and the mainstream media. Forty years later, much has changed, but not for the better. Governments in the so-called ‘developed’ world are, to all intents and certainly all purposes, now owned and controlled by corporations who can afford to buy whatever it takes to get them elected. Corporations, which exist for the sole purpose of generating profits for their shareholders, get whatever legislation they need to maximize those profits enacted by their puppet legislators. Corporations are even insisting they be treated as human beings with equal rights and protections against anything that might harm their well-being (profits).

These factors allow corporations to operate at will, defying environmental protections, funneling public money that should be providing social services into private bank accounts and demanding cutback of any regulation, or even monitoring, of their operations. Any semblance of democracy has long since been abandoned as the resulting governments gut environmental protection, cut regulatory staff, silence their own scientists and spend the citizens’ tax monies on advertising to assure us that they will create enough minimum wage jobs for each family to have the three that are necessary for survival.

All the while, the Global Climate Change Elephant, first discovered and described in the mid-ninteenth century, sat in on these discussions, corporate board meetings and legislative sessions, patiently waiting to be brought into the conversation. Now it has lost that patience and, with a parting “Thank you, thank you very much”, left the room and is making its presence felt by melting arctic sea ice, releasing methane and carbon dioxide by thawing permafrost, warming and acidifying the oceans, strengthening hurricanes and tornados, and intensifying both droughts and flooding. Still the denial and obfuscation continues by corporations, governments, pseudo-scientists and mainline news media. Still we sit idly by and watch the consumer culture show, clapping and hoping for yet another encore.

“Well folks, the show is over and Elephant has left the building . . . goodnight”.

The Least of 3 Evils

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Land, Sea, Air – which should we lose first?

While most people who read this post will be cognisant of the damage being done by the continued extraction of bituminous hydrocarbons from the Alberta tarsands, let’s for the moment assume it will continue and that an export route involving a pipeline to the west coast and tanker traffic to Asia will be established. Immediately, we see two distinct and ominous possibilites for catastrophe in British Columbia; the probability of a ruptured pipe spilling oil into pristine fresh water resources and fish habitat and the just as probable threat of destruction of the coast by another tanker accident. There is, of course, a third disaster to be caused by this corporate infrastructure.

exxon_valdez_0323

Let’s say that this pipeline is built of kryptonite or, being blessed amongst pipelines, enjoys heavenly immunity. Likewise for any tanker which enters Canadian waters off the coast of British Columbia to load the issue of the pipeline. This would ensure that the lands and waters of British Columbia would remain safe until the pipeline’s owner, the oil industry and the applicable foreign investors were satisfied that they had made a fair profit and it was time to safely decommission and un-install the pipe for recycling . . . right.

But what about the emissions from all the “product” that made it “safely” to “market” and was burned?

This would almost certainly be the worst result of all as it would not only hasten the end of civilization and the human species, but just might be enough to be the sole cause. So, it seems the best possible outcome would be a catastrophic rupture of the line on its first day of operation, anything else would be far more dangerous.

The Long and Short of it . . .

The title of American novelist James Howard Kunstler’s book about the approaching catastrophe of global climate change say’s it all – “The Long Emergency”. The approach is slow but inexorable like a giant cruise ship that loses power as it heads toward a rocky shore. However, anyone watching from shore would see the moving ship and, if they had a modicum of knowledge of the physics of momentum, would realized the ship was not going stop in time. Taking hours from start to finish this would be a “Short Emergency”.

Another analogy would be Hollywood’s usual approach to the impending end of humanity, that of a large object such as an asteroid or comet discovered to be on a collision course with Earth within a couple of weeks from impact. This, of course, would be another “Short Emergency” with a duration of weeks and the end coming literally in a flash. Earthlings would have a magnificent feel for what was about to happen as the object (with a bit of help from the FX crew) would grow hourly in both apparent size and brilliance as it took aim straight at the observer, almost certainly in contradiction of the laws of orbital motion.

In contrast, the “Long Emergency” of climate change will take decades, or generations, or possibly a century or two and the changes will become undeniably apparent to various people only after the passage of decades or even a lifetime. Even though a wealth of data from scientific investigation is available now to form an extremely well-informed and unambiguous decision that anthropogenic climate change is real, there are still those who refuse to think about it. If you only think about what will happen if we collectively refuse to face reality, then it is a picture which anyone could be excused for being unable to bear looking at.

The real tragedy of climate change is that it need not cause the extinction of our species if we would face the reality and resolve to begin immediately to make the changes necessary to decrease or remove the causes. We are facing the very real possibility that we will continue to play Russian Roulette until we finally find the right chamber to fire.

Truth in [Free] Marketing — does this have to be an oxymoron?

I am currently reading Hot, Flat and Crowded by Thomas L. Friedman, a Pulitzer Prize winning foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times. In the chapter titled “The Stone Age Didn’t End Because We Ran Out of Stones” this quotation appears:

“Socialism collapsed because it did not allow the market to tell the economic truth. Capitalism may collapse because it does not allow the market to tell the ecological truth.” – Oystein Dahle, former president of Exxon for Norway.

Friedman:
“What he meant, of course, is that the basic paradigm of modern, industrial-age capitalism, which flowered in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, treated things like pollution, waste, and CO2 emissions as essentially irrevalent “externalities” that could be ignored. As any economic textbook will tell you, an externality is any cost or benefit resulting from a commercial transaction that is borne or received by parties not directly involved in the transaction . . .”

“. . . We have been fooling ourselves with fraudulent accounting by not pricing these externalities. As [Ecologist] Lester Brown put it, we as a society ‘have been behaving just like Enron, the rogue energy giant, at the height of its folly.’ We rack up stunning profits and GDP numbers every year, and they look great on paper ‘because we’ve been hiding some of the costs off the books.’ Mother Nature has not been fooled. That is why we are having climate change. That which is not priced is not valued, and if our open lands, clean air, clean water, and healthy forests are not valued, the earth, when it is this flat and this crowded, will become a very hot, no-cost landfill very fast.”


So, add “Change the direction of the Free Market and the mindset of all those involved in it” to the list of things to do in the next few years in order to save our species and our planet. One more in a long and growing to-do list, each of which would be described by almost anyone who considered themselves rational as “IMPOSSIBLE” . . . but all of which have to be done, and quickly, if our descendants are to have a chance at being born.

Climate Wars – Gwynne Dyer (2008)

MASSIVE POPULATION SHIFTS
SPREADING EPIDEMICS
DROUGHT
RISING SEA LEVELS
FOOD SCARCITY
CRASHING ECONOMIES
POLITICAL EXTREMISM

Does that sound scary enough? It sure as hell does to me. Canadian geopolitical analyst and syndicated columnist Gwynne Dyer doesn’t pull any punches in this work which illustrates a number of plausible outcomes of the now-well-advanced effects of anthropogenic climate change. Here’s an excerpt from the dust jacket:

“Now that the “debate” about whether human activity is affecting the Earth’s climate is over, the urgent question is what kind of future awaits us?

According to the world’s experts, the more the climate changes, the more everything will change, from everyday questions of what, or indeed whether, we eat to shifting geopolitical alliances.

Governments around the world pay their senior military officers to identify and counter threats to their security, and climate change scenarios that not long ago would have been considered the stuff of Hollywood blockbusters are already looming large in the military planning process.

In other words, if our civilization’s greenhouse gas emissions push global temperatures 2 degrees past pre-industrial levels, not only will we have reached the point at which a series of “feedback” loops trigger further change, we will in all likelihood be headed towards war: war over access to water, over arable land, over dwindling resources.”

Here is a short piece from the book that says it all about our chances:

“But the political, economic and strategic variables are even harder to calculate, and it is they that will decide whether human beings manage to contain [Anthropogenic Climate Change]. The proposed remedies are numerous, but they don’t all match up, and they almost all require that scarcest of commodities—political will.”

Skeptics, Delayers (and millions of other deniers)

My current read is HOT AIR – Jeffrey Simpson, Mark Jaccard and Nic Rivers (2007). Like many other books on the crises currently facing the Earth, the Human and all other species, this book has a section about our individual and collective failure to understand and/or face reality.

Below is an excerpt from this section of the book:


“Beyond the skeptics and delayers are millions of citizens for whom climate change has been an abstract problem divorced from their daily preoccupations. Part of the problem in attracting their attention concerns timing. Acting seriously against climate change would impose short- to medium-term costs on companies, governments, and individuals; not taking action will result in costs and risks over a much longer term. The immediate costs tend to be traceable and measurable; the long-term gains tend to be diffuse, and the long-term costs, by definition, remote and uncertain.”

“Even if people feel that doing something about climate change is important, their attention is easily and understandably diverted to more immediate concerns about health care, taxes, jobs, personal security, education. Most people are likely to display only a passing interest in problems lacking a direct link between action today and results tomorrow. Traditionally, cynical politicians count on this.”

“There are also uncertainties about climate change — fewer and fewer with each new study, but nonetheless estimating risks is a challenge. Critics therefore have argued that we should not act until we are certain about the precise dimension of the risk. More study before action has been a constant refrain of climate change skeptics and delayers for two decades in Canada.”

“Curiously, that is not how we address other risks. We follow rather a standard procedure with other hazards in our daily lives and businesses. If many independent experts tell us that a risk is significant, we do not usually pretend that we know more than the experts and act as if the risk were zero. We put on seat belts in case our car crashes, or the police detect us without one — two kinds of risk. We spend money on fire alarms, fire extinguishers, fire insurance, heat-activated sprinklers. We take these precautions even though we are far from certain that our house will catch fire.”


In the past insurance underwriters have charged reduced premiums for those who have done their best to mitigate (the underwriters) risk. Good drivers get a preferential rate on car insurance, those who protect their homes with fire resistant materials and systems that reduce fire risk reduce the premiums they pay for house insurance. Perhaps its time to start lobbying for reduced premiums for policy holders who can show that they are acting in a range of ways to reduce their overall carbon footprint. Since the same companies underwrite all classes of insurance, anyone who reduces carbon emissions will save such companies money – so why should they pay the same premiums as those who do not? This would get the public’s attention!