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.

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A Revolutionary New Understanding [about a complete lack of understanding]

Invisible Nature: Healing The Destructive Divide Between People And The Environment —  Kenneth Worthy – Prometheus Books – August 6, 2013


The above book is described as being “A revolutionary new understanding of the precarious modern human-nature relationship and a path to a healthier, more sustainable world.”  The full description as posted by Chapters-Indigo continues:

“Amidst all the wondrous luxuries of the modern world—smartphones, fast intercontinental travel, Internet movies, fully stocked refrigerators—lies an unnerving fact that may be even more disturbing than all the environmental and social costs of our lifestyles. The fragmentations of our modern lives, our disconnections from nature and from the consequences of our actions, make it difficult to follow our own values and ethics, so we can no longer be truly ethical beings. When we buy a computer or a hamburger, our impacts ripple across the globe, and, dissociated from them, we can’t quite respond. Our personal and professional choices result in damages ranging from radioactive landscapes to disappearing rainforests, but we can’t quite see how.

Environmental scholar Kenneth Worthy traces the broken pathways between consumers and clean-room worker illnesses, superfund sites in Silicon Valley, and massively contaminated landscapes in rural Asian villages. His groundbreaking, psychologically based explanation confirms that our disconnections make us more destructive and that we must bear witness to nature and our consequences. Invisible Nature shows the way forward: how we can create more involvement in our own food production, more education about how goods are produced and waste is disposed, more direct and deliberative democracy, and greater contact with the nature that sustains us.”


Assuming that the above is correct, which seems to me to be a perfectly safe and sane assumption, are we all committing an immoral act by continuing to live in our industrialized societies? Of course we are. This may be a major part of the reason that people of good will, let’s just call them “Good People”, are so confused and conflicted about what they can do as individuals to aid the healing processes so urgently required. In a world so complex that we cannot know how to be ethical or moral, how can we be expected to understand the science, or the economics, or the psychology behind what is happening all around us but which we experience only as a fog of life, much like the fog of war experienced by combat soldiers.

I will be embarking upon this revolutionary pathway as soon as our fine, local book store Volume One procures the book for me. Wish me luck.

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.

” I want to thank, Enbridge, Monsanto, Nestle and General Motors for their on-going support . . . “

A couple of days ago, I was watching a clip from the US that included a wonderous idea for electoral reform. I don’t remember where I watched it or who it was — fortunately it doesn’t matter — the idea is this:

For the duration of the term of office, any elected official when visible to the public should be required to wear a Nascar style jumpsuit emblazened with the logos of hers/his corporate sponsors. The name of the corporation must be clearly readable to television viewers or bystanders in the case of a public appearance.

Any corporation sponsoring politicians would be required to maintain an easily found website with the extent of all current political support as well as historical records including names and amounts. This would allow we citizens to know who and what those we elect really represent.

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.

Self-Imposed Extinction is Apparently Preceeded by Mass Insanity

Read this release from the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) regarding the CCW Meeting of Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS) which will take place from 13 to 17 April 2015 at the United Nations in Geneva.

Humankind is facing the very real prospect of extinction from the effects of Anthropogenic Climate Change and what are we doing? — developing weapons systems which can make their own decisions about who to kill and when. Although the potential will exist for these systems to solve the climate change issue (everyone working at fossil fuel company headquarters, politicians around the globe who continue to support fossil fuel use, anyone driving a Hummer and so on) this is not what they are being developed for . . . at least not until someone hacks into the control software.

To great fanfare about “intelligence” and “lithium from Russia” they will be sent off to unfriendly nations (accompanied by a couple of CF18’s to show that Canadian politicos have big balls too) to bomb electronic factories and stop those countries’ WMD-by-LAWS programs; which don’t exist of course.

Picture these drones gleefully raining down death upon hapless Bangladeshi factory workers who are waving banners declaring that they are just developing a more efficient way of delivering pizza.

My question would be: How long can these things continue to Autonomously fuel themselves and continue operations after the last humans have apparently expired? Do they ultimately win or will there be some “Preppers” hiding in culvert pipes buried 40 feet down in the USA (eating KD that is years past its best before date and drinking their own, or possibly each others’ urine) who will emerge after one of the LAWS has imbibed the last gulp of Jet A.

Either way, I wouldn’t wanna survive this one.

Simplicity

I am reading “Simplicity” – Edward de Bono, 1998.

The author points out the difficulty of simplifying forms if it is undertaken by people who know the system.

“They cannot see why anyone should find ambiguities or difficulties. Perhaps there could be a professional ‘simple-minded’ body which could be hired to ‘misunderstand’ basic instructions.The experts would then have to outwit the simple-minded people so that these people could no longer make mistakes.”

Global Military Dominance — “When will they ever learn . . .”

Yet another good news / bad news story, this one from TomDispatch in the U.S.A. – who would have guessed that, eh?

The good:

“Whatever world we now inhabit, it’s not the twentieth century anymore. Though no other power has risen to directly challenge Washington, the United States no longer qualifies as the planet’s “sole superpower,” “last superpower,” “global sheriff,” or any of the similarly self-congratulatory phrases that were the coin of the realm in the years after the Soviet Union dissolved.”

. . . . . and the bad:

“Only one small problem, . . . the Department of Defense evidently doesn’t have a clue.

Senator Tom Cotton — he of the “Senate 47″ — who just gave his maiden speech on the Senate floor calling for a policy of total U.S. “global military dominance” and bemoaning that “our military, suffering from years of neglect, has seen its relative strength decline to historic levels.”

The “one small problem” referred to above is that this is shaping up as a new “cold”, or more likely “hot” war between America and China with all the rest of us hoping the missles won’t go astray and land on us by mistake. I lived with that fear from the age of five when they dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki until 1991 when Mikhail Gorbachev ended the insane policy of Mutually Assured Distruction aka “MAD”. It seems that particular insanity was only in remission and will probably return to join the others, like perpetual economic growth, that we deem necessary in order to keep the world unstable.