Locked-Up Inside the Complexity Trap

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From the acidified and plasticized oceans to the greenhouse gas-polluted atmosphere to the radioactive and heavy metal-contaminated soils, the Anthropocene Epoch will leave behind a planet radically altered in its atmospheric and biospheric chemistry. This disruption, unprecedented in geologic time for its rapidity and wide-scale destruction, is already too severe for the complex web of life that had evolved under earth’s previous life-sustaining homeostatic system. As Brian Moss (et al.) wrote in Climate Change Impacts on Freshwater Ecosystems, “The chemistry of the biosphere is the ultimate sine qua non of our existence.”:

It is expected that we will have lost over half the world’s land ecosystems to agriculture or development by 2050. The urbanites may not be noticing this but the consequences will nonetheless be huge, for it is these natural ecosystems that regulate the nature of the biosphere. We have absolutely no idea how much of them can be damaged without serious consequences for human survival. All we know is that such systems, honed by the utterly ruthless mechanisms of natural selection to be as near fit for purpose as possible, are just as crucial to us, indeed much more fundamentally so, than the local grocer, filling station or hospital. The chemistry of the biosphere is the ultimate sine qua non of our existence. …in contemplating the hitherto effects of climate change, we fail to realize that the loss of ecosystems and the changing climate are linked. Indeed we blithely cost the damage of climate change (Stern 2006) as we cost the goods and services we are losing through the application of the same approach of classical economics. We have failed to see the interaction of climate, ecology, and equability. Our attempts to mitigate climate change, in a desperate bid to avoid disruption of our societies, may inevitably be doomed to failure unless we begin to see the whole picture and not just the components we find most convenient to our cash economy. - Link

Man-made climate change is the number one driver of the 6th mass extinction currently unfolding. Without bees, the grocery shelves look rather bare. Without coral reefs, the oceans are devoid of most life. Perhaps the greatest blind spot of humans is their inability to imagine that earth does not need them. The myopic, anthropocentric worldview that humans “own the earth” is emblematic of our economic system and its principles, and this belief that everything can be valued in dollars and cents will prove to be our undoing.

Modern man evolved in an environment composed of carbon dioxide(CO2) levels averaging 240ppm and methane(CH4) levels averaging 700ppb. Today’s atmosphere is now filled with nearly double the amount of CO2 and triple the CH4. A third greenhouse gas worth noting is nitrous oxide(N2O) which has 296 times the ‘Global Warming Potential’ (GWP) of CO2 and a lifespan of 150 years. N2O’s pre-industrial levels were around 270ppb, but are now at around 330ppb and climbing 0.3% per year. When all greenhouse gases are combined, the world is at a carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) of 479 ppm. And we’re locked into much more warming due to the carbon-based civilization we have built. Global dimming and the lag time of climate change have hidden the full effects yet to come, but the changes we are already seeing at only 0.85°C are catastrophic. If you are unaware of the runaway feedback loops causing the Arctic to warm twice as fast as the rest of the planet and the exponential ice melt happening in both of the Earth’s poles, then you haven’t been paying close enough attention. David Spratt elucidates some of the tipping points we have already breached:

…tipping points that have been passed thus far, at less than 1°C of warming:

  • The loss of the Amundsen Sea West Antarctic glaciers, and 1–4 metres of sea level rise (Rignot, Mouginot et al., 2014; Joughin, Smith et al., 2014). Dr Malte Meinshausen, advisor to the German government and one of the architects of the IPCC’s Representative Concentration Pathways, calls the evidence published this year of “unstoppable” (Rignot, 2014) deglaciation in West Antarctica “a game changer”, and a “tipping point that none of us thought would pass so quickly”, noting now we are “committed already to a change in coastlines that is unprecedented for us humans” (Breakthrough, 2014).
  • The loss of Arctic sea-ice in summer (Duarte, Lenton et al., 2012; Maslowski, Kinney et al., 2012), which will hasten regional warming, the mobilization of frozen carbon stores, and the deglaciation of Greenland.
  • Numerous ecosystems, which are already severely degraded or in the process of being lost, including the Arctic (Wolf, 2010). In the Arctic, the rate of climate change is now faster than ecosystems can adapt to naturally, and the fate of many Arctic marine ecosystems is clearly connected to that of the sea ice (Duarte, Lenton et al., 2012). In May 2008, Dr Neil Hamilton, who was then director of Arctic programmes for WWF, told a stunned audience (of which I was a member) at the Academy of Science in Canberra that WWF was not trying to preserve the Arctic ecosystem because “it was no longer possible to do so.”

Such environmental changes are imperceptible to the real-time cognitive processing of humans, but in geological ‘deep time’ these events are cataclysmic and portend a dire future for humans. As Jared Diamond described in his writings, climate change is the ultimate under-the-radar threat able to undermine human reasoning and response:

Psychological concepts of how we view the world around us, including ‘creeping normalcy’ or ‘landscape amnesia’, block day-to-day comprehension of what accelerating human activities represent—whether it is human population, the number of dammed rivers, forest destruction, or the impact of motor car emissions in a timespan that is geologically brief. Creeping normalcy refers to slow trends concealed in noisy fluctuations that people get used to without comment, while landscape amnesia describes forgetting how different the landscape looked 20–50 years ago (Diamond 2005: 425).

In his study of how societies fail, biogeographer Jared Diamond calls global warming a pre-eminent example of a ‘slow trend concealed by wide up and down fluctuations’ (2005: 425). He likens the denial of climate change impacts by leading politicians, including former US president George W. Bush (and his contemporary John Howard in Australia), in the late 1990s and early 2000s to the elite of ‘the medieval Greenlanders [who] had similar difficulties recognizing that their climate was gradually becoming colder, and the Maya and Anasazi (in Central and North America) [who] had trouble discerning that theirs was becoming drier’ (2005: 425). - Link

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Nate Hagens recently made a comment online which is key to understanding much of the frustration, obstinacy, and mass delusion that modern society exhibits when trying to understand one piece of the global crisis rather than taking a holistic approach:

“I think 95%+ of environmentalists don’t integrate systems, energy or human behavior into their analysis of our climate predicament and think we can just plug and play BTUs (British Thermal Units) and have low carbon economic growth – PCI (Post Carbon Institute) has spent most of the last 5 years trying to educate [the public] on this front, to little avail.”

Most energy experts know that “renewable energy” will never be able to replace energy-dense fossil fuels, but they don’t take into full consideration the collapse of earth’s stable Holocene climate which has allowed industrial civilization to flourish. On the other side of the coin, most climate scientists and activists I have encountered do not understand the sever limitations of “renewable energy”, yet many are well aware of the looming disaster posed by anthropogenic climate disruption. Trying to fully comprehend the multiple interconnected global crisis bearing down on industrial civilization is like the allegory of the six blind men and an elephant. Unable to see the bigger picture, each man argues and maintains that their limited view of reality is the only correct one.

As global coal consumption continues its upwards march, the real outcome of the Lima climate conference is that humans are more than willing to hide behind contractual jargon and kick the can down the road rather than come to terms with the unsustainable nature of industrial civilization:

The shift of a single word—from a “shall” to a “may”—means the world will very likely continue to burn lots of coal. Instead of being required to provide “quantifiable information” about their greenhouse-gas emissions, countries may choose whether or not to include those statistics in their pledges instead, known in the jargon as “intended nationally determined contributions.Link

After more than two decades of climate talks, are we to believe that industrial civilization will ever reform itself for the sake of a living planet? As pervasive as self-deception is in modern society, the reinsurance industry is one sector of industrial civilization unable to turn a blind eye to the rising costs of increasingly extreme and chaotic weather events. The U.S. military is another entity impelled to acknowledge anthropogenic climate disruption, whether it be responding to the wreckage from monster typhoons in the Philippines or the destabilizing effects of droughts in the Middle East. After a few centuries of burning fossil fuels and the accumulation of vast amounts of climate science data, techno-capitalist carbon man is also being forced to react to the fact that the earth’s atmosphere is not an infinite pollution sink for his endless consumption of energy. The problem is that several planetary tipping points have already been irreversibly transgressed, threatening the very habitability of earth. Our predictable collective response is to try to techno-fix the problem rather than entertain any fundamental rethink of the pillars of the capitalist economic system and the scientific reductionism that have led us to this impasse. As evidenced by the number of articles published in mainstream periodicals these days about geoengineering the atmosphere, awareness appears to be growing amongst the business elite that things are starting to spiral out of control:

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Geoengineering is another problem-solving strategy that our complex society will employ in order to try and solve the ever-complicated problems arising from ecological overshoot. In his book The Collapse of Complex Societies, Joseph Tainter described this process of developing progressively more sophisticated technologies to solve problems. Geoengineering is wrought with dangers and even frightens many of those scientists who are working on such schemes, but it may be our last hope of saving ourselves from abrupt climate change and a hothouse Earth similar to past rapid warmings. Recent research has shown that the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), a time in earth’s history when global temperatures rose upwards of 5°C in the space of about 13 years, serves as a better case study for modern climate change than previously thought:

About 55.5 million years ago, a burst of carbon dioxide raised Earth’s temperature 5°C to 8°C, which had major impacts on numerous species of plants and wildlife. Scientists analyzing ancient soil samples now say a previous burst of the greenhouse gas preceded this event, known as the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum (PETM), and probably triggered it. Moreover, they believe humans are pumping similar levels of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere right now, raising concerns that our own emissions may also destabilize Earth’s climate, triggering the planet to emit devastating bursts of carbon in the future.

The paper implies that even if we stopped emitting carbon dioxide right now, our descendants might still face huge temperature rises, says paleoclimatologist Gabriel Bowen of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, the lead author of the new research. “It is a possibility,” he says, “and it’s a scary one.”…

…The researchers used climate models to investigate how the initial, smaller heating could have triggered the later surge in temperature. They estimate that the first thermal pulse is likely to have warmed Earth’s atmosphere by 2°C to 3°C, but that the atmospheric temperature would have gradually returned to normal as the heat was absorbed into the deep ocean. However, when that heat finally reached the ocean floor, it might have melted methane ices called clathrates, releasing the methane into the ocean and allowing it to make its way into the atmosphere. As a greenhouse gas, methane is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide [up to several hundred times the Global Warming Potential of CO2 for the first two decades before decaying into CO2], so a sudden spike in methane emissions could lead to huge climate change.Link

If we are only going to use geoengineering techniques to try and keep business-as-usual afloat, then such efforts will be nothing more than the last gasps of a dying civilization, but if these technologies are coupled with an expedited wartime transformation of our society, culture, economy, and political institutions into a very low or zero carbon society, then perhaps such efforts would be worthwhile and could save our species from extinction. However, I see no signs of any such transition towards a decentralized, simplified society, and more noteworthy, neither does Tainter. We are firmly locked within the complexity trap:

…‘the study of social complexity does not yield optimistic results’ (Tainter, 2006: 99). In fact, there is something deeply tragic in Tainter’s view, because it suggests that civilisation, by its very nature, gets locked into a process of mandatory growth in complexity that eventually becomes unsupportable. Furthermore, history provides a disturbingly consistent empirical basis for this tragic view (Tainter, 1988), leading Tainter (2006: 100) to conclude that ‘all solutions to the problem of complexity are temporary.’ This seemingly innocuous statement is actually extremely dark, for it implies that ultimately and inevitably social complexity will outgrow its available energy supply. - Link

As things stand right now, not only must we stop the rise of CO2, but we must also halt the loss of Arctic ice albedo and implement methods for pulling greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere because a 2°C warming limit is a thing of the past. Sound advice would be to stop digging when in catastrophic overshoot, but it does not appear we can stop because the system is in control, not us.

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“You’re captives of a civilizational system that more or less compels you to go on destroying the world in order to live. … You are captives—and you have made a captive of the world itself. That’s what’s at stake, isn’t it?—your captivity and the captivity of the world.”
― Daniel Quinn, Ishmael

Accelerating Towards an Arctic Blue Ocean Event

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“For the last 8,000 years we’ve had [relatively] amazing stability with constant weather temperatures and sea level. This stability has allowed the development of agriculture, civilization, industrialization, and a population of 7 billion and rising. This apparent stability is entirely a fluke. It is by amazing good luck that we are here today looking back on the past.”
John Nissen (12-4-2014), Arctic Methane Emergency Group

On the 4th, 5th, and 6th of December of the year 2014, the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG) held press briefings at the COP-20 United Nations Climate Change Conference that is taking place in Lima, Peru. For those unfamiliar with AMEG, here is a summary about them from their website that illustrates their proven track record of predictions:

AMEG is a group of determined scientists, engineers, communicators and others, dedicated firstly to establishing what really is happening to our planet (especially in the Arctic) using best scientific evidence, secondly to finding effective and affordable means to deal with the situation, and thirdly communicating these matters to authority and the general public.

AMEG aims to position itself in the centre ground – neither overstating nor understating the dangers of climate change. We are only alarmist in the sense that we are drawing attention to the more unpleasant realities of rapid Arctic warming and climate change, which have been downplayed or ignored by IPCC, unwittingly backed up by the media. We are determinedly optimistic as regards promoting an intervention strategy against all the odds, believing that mankind must have the collective intelligence to sort out the mess that mankind has got itself into.

In early 2012, AMEG gave evidence to the UK’s Environment Audit Committee in their inquiry on protecting the Arctic. Much of our evidence was dismissed by government advisers, but all our evidence has been borne out by subsequent observations and events, including: the rapid rise in temperature of Arctic ocean and atmosphere; the dramatic decline of sea ice to a record minimum in September 2012 (following the exponential downward trend we had warned the committee about); the exponential increase in release of the potent greenhouse gas, methane, from the Arctic Ocean seabed; the exponential increase in melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet and consequent sea level rise; and the continuing disruption of the jet stream patterns we expected from Arctic warming, with resulting climate change in the form of weather extremes (despite a continuing hiatus in global warming), causing widespread crop failures and increase in the food price index above the crisis level, thus promoting civil conflict in a number of Asian and African countries where food prices have recently escalated, including most notably Syria.

Recent independent research, by scientists in AMEG and elsewhere, puts beyond reasonable doubt our assertion that the Arctic is locked in a vicious cycle of warming and melting, with the sea ice well past its tipping point. The current albedo forcing from snow and sea ice retreat is now estimated at around 0.4 to 0.5 Watts per square meter, averaged globally, amounting to 200 to 250 terawatts heating in the Arctic – more than mankind’s total energy consumption.  This albedo forcing is liable to double within a few years as the snow and sea ice further retreat. AMEG believes that the vicious cycle of warming and melting can only be broken by rapid intervention to cool the Arctic.  

Although AMEG’s research has concentrated on the Arctic and its effect on climate change, our study of IPCC’s own evidence suggests just how serious are the long-term prospects of climate change due to both CO2 and methane – far more serious than claimed by IPCC itself. The carbon budget for CO2 – the allowable amount of CO2 to avoid dangerous climate change – has already been used up, if one takes into account the effect of methane and other greenhouse gases. If one also takes into account the climate forcing through albedo loss in the Arctic, then it is clear that the world is heading for extremely dangerous global warming by mid-century, even without Arctic methane. The only way to head off such a disaster is by reducing the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere well below their current levels, using a combination of aggressive reduction in both CO2 and methane emissions but also by removal of CO2 from the atmosphere.

The videos of all three press briefings are below. They essentially cover much of the same material, but are all worth watching for the details that the different speakers give illustrating mankind’s dire predicament. Following the videos, I summarize AMEG’s discussions along with their conclusions. We truly are at a turning point in the survival of our species.

SUMMARY OF AMEG PRESS BRIEFINGS:
• The tipping point for the collapse of Arctic glaciers has been breached and a runaway meltdown of the North Pole ice cap is currently unfolding. Arctic ice is decaying exponentially. (For a better visualization, picture an area of ice the size of the state of Maine being lost every year since 1979.):

Highly reflective snow and ice is being replaced by dark sea water which is much more [absorbent] of solar energy causing the Arctic to warm much, much faster than the rest of the planet. This is destabilizing the atmospheric air circulation and ocean circulation. It is reducing the temperature gradient or difference between the equator and the pole which slows down the jet stream making it wavier with higher ridges and troughs. The jet stream has also become prone to stagnating in the same region. Very warm, humid southerly air can go to much higher latitudes than before, and cold arctic air can go to much southerly latitudes than before. This in itself is representing an enormous positive reinforcing feedback (not positive for humans) which is carrying more and more heat up into the Arctic and more and more coldness from the Arctic further south. What this will do is fracture the jet streams, leading us to a very different world, a less predictable climatic world where weather extremes such as torrential rains and extended droughts and floods come to dominate the weather system. The frequency, severity, and duration of these events all increase. These events also occur in regions where we did not have this before. For example, we get 80cm(32 inches) of snow in the Atacama Desert which is the driest region of the planet – an unprecedented event. We get torrential rains where we had desert before. We get desert where we had moderate temperatures before. This is already happening now with just 0.85 °C of warming that the world has experienced since the start of the industrial revolution. This situation is very dependent on the conditions in the Arctic. As the Arctic continues to exponentially decline in snow and sea ice cover, these extremes will undoubtedly have to increase. The physics of the system says so. Because we now live in a warmer planet, there is more evaporation of the oceans leading to more water vapor in the atmosphere which fuels stronger storms. (The atmosphere can hold 7% moisture for every 1°C increase in average temp. Since we have increased the average temp by ~0.8°C from pre-industrial times, we have 6% more water vapor in the atmosphere). Because we have changed the chemistry of the atmosphere, we have changed the planet’s weather and climate.

• Once we reach a point of no Arctic sea ice, perhaps as early as September 2015, this will create a “blue ocean event” in which all the heat from the sun will be able to penetrate Arctic waters, vastly accelerating the rate at which the Arctic is warming. Consequently, massive disruption of atmospheric circulation and ocean currents will ensue, thus locking the Arctic into an ice-free state. Global sea levels will rapidly rise and climate chaos will ramp up.
• The East Siberian Arctic Shelf, containing hundreds to thousands of times more heat trapping gases than what are presently in the atmosphere, is in the process of releasing a catastrophic amount of greenhouse gases.
• Climate models do not take into account fractures, imperfections in the sea floor, regions of unfrozen subsea methane and other weak points in methane deposits. The models simply treat these areas as uniform slabs that will act in a predictable and symmetrical manner.
• Historical ice core and sediment records show numerous instances of the Earth having undergone abrupt climate change of 5-6°C or greater within a very short time period, one or two decades.
• The initial heat-trapping strength of methane(CH4) is up to several hundred times more powerful than CO2 during the first couple decades of its release into the atmosphere before degrading into CO2.
• Collapse of Civilization is assured at a 4°C rise in global temperature.

Scientists consider a global warming of 6°C to be a threat to the survival of humanity, and anything beyond an increase of 2°C to be intolerable (as recorded at the Asia-Europe Summit by Khor, September 2006). - Link

• Even conservative IPCC projections of BAU predict a 4°C rise in global temperature by the end of the century and this estimate does not include the methane release from the Arctic seabed, permafrost and tundra. No where in its reports does the IPCC state that a 4°C would be catastrophic to civilization and life on Earth.
• Simply attempting to “adapt” to anthropogenic climate change is not a realistic option.
• The meme of money and profit holds sway over all of society.
• The operating system of global civilization, i.e. neoclassical economics, is fatally flawed and it will kill us.
• The consequences of predicted drought from global warming will make food production impossible in most of the world…

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AMEG’S CONCLUSIONS ARE:
• A life-affirming system of ecological economics must replace the current ecocidal model of neoclassical economics.
• Institutions must divest from fossil fuel investments and burst the carbon bubble.
• Techniques for cooling the Arctic need to be implemented now, such as spraying salt into the atmosphere to thicken clouds. Additionally, carbon sequestration techniques need to be implemented now, such as biochar burial which is a carbon negative technology that also enriches soil fertility.
• The world must recognize that a 2°C target is not the benchmark we need to worry about right now. We need to worry about and immediately deal with the destabilization and disruption of our climate and weather patterns that are already occurring today at 0.85 °C.
• Only a concerted international effort will provide us with a chance to mitigate and adapt to climate change by building a deep toolbox of approaches to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, reducing emissions alone will not be sufficient. An active withdrawal of CO2 from the atmosphere will need to be a part of managing climate change.

AMEG does not mention the Antarctic which was recently found to be melting three times faster than a decade ago:

The glaciers in the embayment lost mass throughout the entire period. The researchers calculated two separate quantities: the total amount of loss, and the changes in the rate of loss.

The total amount of loss averaged 83 gigatons per year (91.5 billion U.S. tons). By comparison, Mt. Everest weighs about 161 gigatons, meaning the Antarctic glaciers lost a Mt.-Everest’s-worth amount of water weight every two years over the last 21 years.

The rate of loss accelerated an average of 6.1 gigatons (6.7 billion U.S. tons) per year since 1992.

From 2003 to 2009, when all four observational techniques overlapped, the melt rate increased an average of 16.3 gigatons per year — almost three times the rate of increase for the full 21-year period. The total amount of loss was close to the average at 84 gigatons.

Also in the news a few months ago was the realization that Greenland’s ice sheet loss has doubled in just the last five years. Greenland’s ice is much more unstable and prone to collapse than previously thought, and it alone holds enough ice to raise sea levels by nearly twenty-three feet. Paul Beckwith notes that the rate of change in ice melt from Greenland and Antarctica has doubled every seven years for the last couple decades and that if we continue on this trend, then the world will indeed experience a sea level rise of nearly twenty-three feet by 2070.

Last month a seemingly reassuring headline stated that ‘Alaska shows no signs of rising Arctic methane‘ according to NASA’s CARVE project (Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment), but any hopes about the ticking methane time bomb in the Arctic were quickly dashed after reading the article:

…High concentrations of have been measured at individual Arctic sites, especially in Siberia. This adds to the concern that massive methane releases are already occurring in the far North. NASA’s multiyear Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE) is the first experiment to establish emission rates for a large region of the Arctic…

Alaska composes about one percent of Earth’s total land area, and its estimated annual emissions in 2012 equaled about one percent of total global methane emissions. That means the Alaskan rate was very close to the global average rate.

“That’s good news, because it means there isn’t a large amount of methane coming out of the ground yet,” said lead author Rachel Chang, formerly at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and now an assistant professor and Canada Research Chair in Atmospheric Science at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Charles Miller of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, the principal investigator for CARVE, noted that results from a single year cannot show how emissions might be changing from year to year. “The 2012 data don’t preclude accelerated change in the future,” he said.

Vast amounts of carbon are stored in undecayed organic matter—dead plants and animals—in Arctic permafrost and peat. Scientists estimate that there is more than twice as much carbon locked in the frozen North as there is in the atmosphere today. The organic material won’t decay and release its carbon as long as it stays frozen. But climate change has brought warmer and longer summers throughout the Arctic, and permafrost soils are thawing more and more. If large amounts of undecayed matter were to defrost, decompose and release methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the impact on global temperatures would most likely be enormous.

Because no other program has made measurements as comprehensive and widespread as CARVE’s, Chang said, “One of the challenges is that we have nothing to compare our results to. We can’t say whether emissions have already increased or stayed the same. Our measurements will serve as a baseline.”

We already know that methane levels have increased two-and-a-half times since the pre-industrial era and “since 2007 atmospheric methane has been on a renewed sustained increase… due to planetary feedback emissions.” Methane has “more than doubled its 800,000 [year] maximum”:

This increase in atmospheric methane started as a result of carbon feedback feedback methane (CH4) from anomalously high temperatures in the Arctic and greater than average precipitation in the tropics, rather than from increased industrial emissions (Dlugokencky et al, 2009). - Link

We also know that scientists continue to be shocked and awed at the increasingly accelerated rate at which glaciers around the world are melting. Essentially, industrial civilization is whistling past the graveyard.

Because of AMEG’s honest assessment about the climatic state of the world and the horrific future mankind faces, I support their efforts. We have no time left for philosophical musings about the ethics of AMEG’s geo-engineering ideas to cool the Arctic or debating why, how, and who is responsible for the mess we are in. The Blue Ocean Event is coming and time is not on our side.

“The end of the Arctic will be the noose gently placed around our necks. Get your affairs in order, Humankind.” ~ The Final Stand

Burning Down the House

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Cross posted from Pray for Calmity
By TDoS

Despite the oddly warm weather that blew in today, we are in the depth of autumn. The days have been full of regular chores. Splitting firewood and stacking it on pallets outside the front door is something I tend to every third day or so, and I try to split in excess so that come the raw cold days of winter, I need not swing the maul. The gardens are almost all covered in a layer of horse manure, and the chicken coop is surrounded with straw bales in the hope that the next round of polar vortecies will not claim the lives of any of our birds. The quiet days spent fleshing deer hides and hauling gravel into the drainage trench around our house arouse my mind to thinking. Furious thinking about the state of the planet, the state of human beings within this culture, and just what the hell any of us should do with our time, our will, and our strength as we collectively are drawn into a decidedly more difficult future.

The bulk of my days this summer past were dedicated to the construction of our house. We have several acres of beautiful land in one of the forested pockets of North America, and through the heat and the rain I swung a framing hammer until at long last I now have a small, mostly finished cabin. It was not once lost on me, that building my house in a rural place as part of an attempt to alleviate myself of the necessity of the industrial capitalist system, I quite often had to lean heavily on that very system. “Using the grid to go off the grid,” my friend said. Despite having no wires or pipes running to my cabin, I know the truth of the matter: there is no escaping civilization. One can scoot to the edges, hang out near the lifeboats if you will, smoking a cigarette and waiting for the moment reality dawns on the crew and they cry “Abandon ship!” But no matter how far one goes, no matter how many comforts they shuck, the chemicals of industry still course through their blood. Catastrophic climate change will wipe out ways of life even in the remote, uncontacted jungles of the world. People who never drove a car or owned a cell phone will be subject to famine and cancer. Ironically, it is the poor who will likely suffer greatest as climatic change spurs droughts, floods, and mega storms. Worse yet, it is the non-human species who are being eradicated daily, never to return, for the hubris of petroleum man.

I hate this civilization, this machine, this juggernaut, this sleepwalking hungry ghost, this pathological ideology, this imaginary cage that we cannot seem to imagine a key for no matter how deeply we come to resent our captivity. But I still wanted a steel roof so that I could collect rainwater. It was July when I screwed the roof down to the purlins, and on that day I asked myself, “What does a person do, when they simultaneously need a thing, and need to destroy it?” Such a double bind cannot possibly have a rational answer, because the rational is captured by society, trademarked and owned by the dominant culture. We can only know in our souls, in the still wild places of our being what must be done, but making the case with the words crafted in the forges of civilization will almost certainly always fail. Words and arguments are Trojan Horses, trap doors to counter arguments, to platitudes, to endless winding hallways of thought not designed to deliver you anywhere, but merely to sap you of your energy in the traveling.

We know what we must do, and we know that we will never be able to rationalize it to the denizens of civilization, because at its very core a rationalization is a request for permission. Those who benefit most from the demise of the natural world and from the agony of the global poor will never permit anyone to cut the lights on this cavalcade of compounding tragedies.

We know what we must do. We must burn down the house we have built, force ourselves back into the wild. And further, we must tell the story to all of our children explaining that the house made us weak, it made us sedentary, it turned us against our land and our kin who dwell on the land, it made us servile to its own needs even as it fell apart around us, off-gassing formaldehyde and leaching fire retardants into our blood. We must explain that the lure the comfort of the house provides is undeniable, and that a long many days from now, the children of our children’s children may forget the perils that the house presents. We must send strong words and songs far into the unseen future, so that those who come after us value the freedom of their life out of doors with only simple shelters, that they understand the impermanence of the tipi or the wigwam is not a failing, but a strength, as the nature of life on this Earth is that of impermanence. We must convey the futility of attempts to forever banish the cold, the rain, or the wind with immovable dwellings, and that such folly will forever chain those who build them to a lifetime of work while making enemies of their surroundings as they till more soil for crops, as they sink more mines for more metal, as they cut trees for more wood, and still lose their great battle against the ravages of weather and time.

It is a great house we have collectively built. Many will say there is no other way of being. They will say that despite the dangers the house presents to body, mind, and soul, that these dangers are nothing when weighed against the impossibility of life outside. There will be those who even acknowledge the limitations of this house, they will nod in agreement when you tell them that the roof is caving and the foundation buckling. They will say, “Yes, yes, I know” when you present the children afflicted with leukemia brought about by the toxicity of the house’s very construction, and they will fight you still when you suggest dismantling this place and creating something new.

The house is a prison, and the people within it have become institutionalized, domesticated. They have been subjugated in spirit and thought to think there is no life outside the walls. If it were possible merely to escape, to dig a mighty tunnel to the far reaches of the mortar and beyond, perhaps that would be the righteous choice. But there is no place left that the ravages cannot reach you. There are no lands across the sea where you will not be subject the dictates of the warden, where the poisons of industry will not claim your health and kill your landbase. The walls must go, by any means necessary, even if in the here and now, we rely upon them.

Sleet is falling now outside of my window. It has been a long season of work, and as my body finds itself resting more, my mind grows agitated. There have been uprisings against police authority across the United States in recent weeks. The petroleum markets are in turmoil as global powers seek domination over their competitors. Experts are advising that the temperature of the planet will necessarily rise to one and a half degrees Celsius above baseline, and still the owner class seeks to exploit tar sand, deep-water oil, and coal.

What is a person to do? It seems that simultaneously, everything and nothing is possible. Action and inaction both appear to be dead ends. There are those who silently hope for a massive solar flare or a great pandemic, assuming the only way to break from this Mobius strip of horrors is if it is severed by some cataclysm delivered from above. This is praying for calamity, it is begging a still listening God for absolution, as if we have done anything to earn such favors.

As the winter sets in, I will be writing about our responsibilities in such times.

A Brief Thanksgiving Message

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0752712050Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, a holiday created from romanticized myths about grand and cordial feasts between pilgrims and the indigenous people whose lives, land, and culture would soon be exterminated from coast to coast. Truth be told, Thanksgiving sprang from the imaginative mind of Sarah Josepha Hale, an author and editor who campaigned for nearly two decades to make it a national holiday before winning over President Lincoln who made it official in 1863. Some historians believe Lincoln used the creation of Thanksgiving as propaganda during the Civil War to paint Northerners as the true founders of the nation whose cause in the war was virtuous and just. In her writings, Hale also pushed the delusional belief that the “United States government was founded without bloodshed.”

Today the holiday has become fully merged into the capitalist superstructure as a time to binge on turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce and puddings just before camping outside consumerist temples for the true day of worship… Black Friday. Riots and mob violence are generally tolerated on Black Friday since it is the key event kicking off the holiday shopping season and driving up corporate profits. Protests and riots for social justice and equality are seen as threats to the capitalist status quo and are systematically undermined, quelled, and co-opted. As I explained in a previous post, the events in Ferguson dominating the headlines are rooted in our socio-economic system.

A few recent thoughts on Twitter about Ferguson and the state of the “civilized” world…

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We could go into great detail about each of the above comments, supporting them with a multitude of facts and references, but I think they speak for themselves and summarize quite well the disintegrating social fabric in America and across the world. Compounding the problem of our sociopathic and sclerotic economic system are the environmental crises of climate change, ocean acidification, resource depletion, and overpopulation, none of which can be successfully dealt with unless we address the system that underlies them all, i.e. capitalism and its energy-intensive way of life. The facts tell us it’s much too late to do anything to save ourselves, but this hopeless mindset only serves to empower those at the top who continue to profit from this corrupt and self-destructive system. It’s past time to step outside our comfort zone and do something to try and save a piece of the web of life fast disappearing before our eyes.

The following poem by William S. Burroughs resonates with what has gone horribly wrong in America and perhaps what has always been wrong.

Climate Chaos Casino: Another Roll of the Dice

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71d75d96a87e42e0872549392d418a9b-62e81f740681423c9e0d6d2ccf796237-0“A vehicle, with a large chunk of snow on its top, drives along Route 20 after digging out from a massive snow fall in Lancaster, N.Y. on Nov. 19″

Snow-Bombed Buffalo NY

Buffalo, NY is the latest loser of industrial civilization’s destabilization of the climate with a tally of 13 dead, 30 major roof collapses and nearly three times as many minor roof collapses, not to mention the soon-to-be flooded homes as the mountains of snow melt in next week’s wild oscillation back to unseasonably high temps. As much as 90 inches of snow fell on the Buffalo area in just three days, prompting climatologist Paul Beckwith to tweet the following remarks:

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What Happens in the Arctic Does Not Stay in the Arctic

What caused this unusually heavy lake-effect snowstorm in Buffalo?…
Firstly, record warm Pacific waters gave birth to Super Typhoon Nuri, the second most intense tropical cyclone worldwide of 2014. Also fueling the creation of such a storm is an atmosphere over the oceans that has 5% more moisture in it than prior to 1970. From there the typhoon moved into the Bering Sea of the Arctic and transformed into an extratropical cyclone that was “the most powerful storm to ever move over the Bering Sea in recorded history in a terms of central pressure.” This cyclone caused an “Arctic outbreak” by pushing the weakened Jet Stream southward, carrying that region’s cold air down into North America. This blast of cold Arctic wind swept across the warm waters of the Great Lakes and strengthened the lake-effect snowfall. The lakes’ warm air evaporated up into the freezing atmosphere and condensed, coming down as a snow bomb on the residents of Erie county.

Clear image of lake effect snow from NASA. Clouds and snow are to the South and East of each Great Lake. :
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Decadal data proves that a warming world is making this lake-effect snowfall even more intense as humans continue their grand chemistry experiment with the planet’s atmosphere. The waters of the Great Lakes are getting warmer and losing their historic freeze point to form ice cover during winter; thus an increasing temperature differential between the warm waters of the lakes and the cold Arctic air passing overhead provides greater energy for stronger lake-effect snowfalls. The more heat energy we inject into Earth’s atmosphere, the more statistically likely that freak weather and powerful storms will occur. Fossil fuel-burning humans are continuing to load the dice of climate chaos and the big losers will most certainly be the future generations of every living thing on the planet.

Lake Erie is warming (along with the rest of the planet) by a steady but measurable amount. Since 1960 that trend has been about a half of a degree Fahrenheit per decade. More important than this, though, Lake Erie has been losing its ability to freeze over in the winter, with a decline of about one sub-freezing day per year in recent decades. – Link

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Concomitantly, lake-effect snow events are increasing in the interim as the Arctic melts away and loses its ability to regulate global weather patterns.

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Deformed Jet Stream

According to climate experts Jennifer Francis and others, Anthropogenic global warming is altering jet stream behavior and making certain weather extremes more likely to occur:

“We know that the Arctic is warming much faster than everywhere else on the planet,” Francis said. That’s important because the speed of the jet stream as it moves eastwards is driven by the temperature differential between the Arctic and areas to the south.

“Because the warming is so fast, it’s causing that temperature differential to become smaller, and as a result the winds, west-east winds, are getting weaker,” Francis said.

When the jet stream weakens, it tends to wander more north and south — instead of its usually straight circle around the Northern Hemisphere. Francis said that scientists measuring the “waviness” of the jet stream have found that it becomes wavier as the Arctic melts. Masters echoed Francis, saying, “We’ve experienced record loss of Arctic sea ice and … when that happens it can influence the jet stream to allow more frequent plunges over the eastern part of the U.S.”

“We’ve had record-breaking Arctic sea ice loss over the last 15 years, and we’ve seen a lot more of these Arctic plunges over the eastern two-thirds of the U.S., starting around 2000,” Masters added. – Link

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…the evidence in her favor is mounting — she cites no fewer than five (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) scientific papers published in the last year or so that she considers supportive, and hints that more are coming. “We’ve got 5 papers that all look at that particular mechanism in different ways — different analysis, different data sets, observation and models — and they all come to the same conclusion and they all identify this mechanism independently,” she says. – Link

Anthropogenic Climate Disruption is Still Greek to Most Americans

If polling studies are any indication, all of this talk about jet streams, extreme weather, and the melting Arctic is still greek to the average American:

The survey also reveals a “misunderstanding” of climate change as only one in 10 of those polled said they know that more than 90 percent of climate scientists say humans are contributing to global warming. Just half blame human activity while even fewer are “very worried” about climate change.

“Very few Americans are aware that 97 percent of climate scientists agree that global warming is human caused,” the authors said. “This public misunderstanding of the scientific consensus — which has been found in each of our surveys since 2008 — has significant consequences.” – Link

And the politicians are still talking out of both sides of their mouths on the subject:

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As are corporations:

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And to the very end, the climate change illiterate will continue to drown out those who still have a certain level of brain activity:

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And lastly, the multiple environmental crises we face are like a multi-headed hydra. Cut one head off with a techno-fix and it grows two more. Even those who are well-read and knowledgable on climate change still hold fast to a techno-utopian future, clueless as to what is and isn’t sustainable:

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Remember… it’s the economy, stupid!

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Death by Dollar$ and Suicide by CO2

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Unresponsive and Corrupt Governments

Another election cycle passes and the American people responded with the lowest voter turnout since WWII. The staged events of today’s political rallies will soon be composed solely of people paid off with corporate bribes to wave flags and chant slogans. As ever more corporate money floods into the faux democratic process, participation by the average citizenry has plummeted. Americans are now more disillusioned with the charade of “American democracy” than at any time in history:

Confidence in Congress as an institution is at 7%, the lowest measurement in history and lower than any other institution tested, including organized labor, banks and big business. Views of the honesty and ethics of members of Congress are at 8% on average, one percentage point above lobbyists, but one point below car salesmen… – link

We are also undoubtedly becoming more callous and insensitive to our fellow-man when a 90-year-old gentleman is arrested for feeding the homeless from a church kitchen. In fact, we’ve lost all our humanity and exchanged it for the almighty dollar. Neoliberal capitalism has permeated very aspect of social and civic life, creating a new epitaph for the demise of such a mean-spirited culture —‘death by dollars’.

You Are What You Eat

I just became aware of Dr. Suzanne de la Monte’s studies on the food industry’s use of sugar in all its products in order to fabricate a consumer “bliss point” for maximizing sales. Capitalist industrial civilization has bred a morbidly obese creature conditioned to overeat processed food spiked with sugar, fat, and salt. A high-fructose diet has undoubtedly turned the cognitive skills of many into mush. John Oliver recently used a clip from her work in his takedown of the sugar industry:

“De la Monte has done her research by feeding healthy rats the equivalent of a North American diet, complete with all the sugars and fat. All her rats ended up demented.” – from the documentary The Secrets of Sugar

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The Dopamine Rush of Fossil Fuels

With the recent elections the lunatics have taken control of the asylum. Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe, recipient of 2012 Rubber Dodo Award, is in line to chair the Senate’s top environmental job, and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says his first priority will be to “do whatever I can to get the EPA reined in.” At least a dozen newly-elected climate science deniers will be there to help Mitch compete with China and India in a race to global mass extinction.

The IPCC stated back in 2007 that emissions would have to peak in 2015 to avoid a rise of 2°C, but since that is not going to happen, they are putting their hopes in technology that could pull CO2 out of the atmosphere while conceding that such techniques are “uncertain” and “limited”. Mankind’s grave is already deep enough, yet we keep digging. Just as China’s coal consumption has registered a drop for the first time this century, India has announced it will pick up the slack by planning to double its coal production to meet the country’s soaring energy demand. Poland has rejected the IPCC target of zero emissions by 2100. In the U.S., new data has revealed that climate change has become the most politically divisive issue in the U.S.

According to energy expert Nate Hagens, modern-day carbon man’s metabolic energy consumption makes each of us a 30-ton primate. It appears the Pavlovian conditioning of modern man to energy dense fossil fuels and capitalist wealth have irrevocably hacked and rewired his brain’s reward system. The autopsy results for the age of the Anthropocene will read: “fossil fuel overdose” and “suicide by CO2″.

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Hydropower is Not Green

Even overlooking the GHG emissions from a dam’s construction and maintenance, hydropower is seen by some as a “renewable energy source”, yet it is apparently a much larger source of methane emissions than once thought, perhaps releasing nearly as much as the methane emissions that accompany the burning of fossil fuels:

…In 2012 study, researchers in Singapore found that greenhouse gas emissions from hydropower reservoirs globally are likely greater than previously estimated, warning that “rapid hydropower development and increasing carbon emissions from hydroelectric reservoirs to the atmosphere should not be downplayed.”

Those researchers suggest all large reservoirs globally could emit up to 104 teragrams of methane annually. By comparison, NASA estimates that global methane emissions associated with burning fossil fuels totals between 80 and 120 teragrams annually…

Nonetheless, industrial civilization is currently damming up every large river on the planet:

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The Unraveling Web of Life

The WWF(World Wildlife Fund) released its biennial ‘Living Planet Report’ which some on Twitter are calling the ‘Dead Planet Report’. The silence of mass extinction draws ever nearer…

The report writers, based on data kept by the Zoological Society of London, studied 10,380 populations of 3,038 species of amphibians, birds, fish, mammals and reptiles from 1970 to 2010. Over these four decades, the average decline of these vertebrate species was 52 per cent – all in less than two human generations.

Amongst freshwater species the population decline was a staggering 76 per cent, owing to habitat loss, land fragmentation, pollution and invasive species.

In the same period terrestrial species declined by 39 per cent through unsustainable land use and increased poaching, often spurred on by wildlife crime syndicates.

Marine species declined also by 39 per cent, to include large migratory seabirds, many shark species and also sea turtles.

A major contributory factor to marine loss of life was through by catching (accidentally catching, in certain fish net sizes, species which were of no market value and then casting these dead fish overboard), illegal fishing and overfishing of the same fishing grounds.

Currently we need a 50 per cent bigger Earth to allow the regeneration of the natural resources we consume…

…By 2050, we will have an extra 2.4 billion people in our world, with urban populations increasing from 3.6 billion in 2011 to 6.3 billion. In 1970, there were only two megacities (over 10 million people) – New York and Tokyo; in 2014 there are 28 such cities – 16 in Asia, three each in Europe and Africa, four in Latin America and two in North America, all totalling 12 per cent of the world’s urban population.

The United Nations (UN) predicts that in 2025, there will be 37 megacities with eight new ones in Asia. Also in the pipeline are meta-cities – conurbations of over 20 million people – through the amalgamation of megacities…

…The report interestingly mentions that the diversity of human languages in our world is strongly correlated to areas of high plant diversity. Some linguists have predicted that 90 per cent of the world’s languages will expire by the end of this century…

Here is an interesting graph created by Paul Chefurka which shows that the combined biomass of humans with their farm animals exceeds the natural carrying capacity of the earth sevenfold:

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In the graphic, the “wild animal” biomass doesn’t include insects, bacteria, or marine organisms.

I used three data sources to develop the chart: a paper by world-respected ecological scientist Vaclav Smil, called “Harvesting the Biosphere”, linked below; world population estimates from the Wikipedia article of the same name; and the UN’s Medium Fertility variant for the human population in 2050 (9.6 billion).

The definition I used for Global Carrying Capacity is, “The biomass the planet can support without the assistance of human technology or fossil fuels.” The impact of human activity has gradually eroded the Earth’s carrying capacity over time, which is why I show the red dotted line sloping down to the right. The degree of erosion is very hard to estimate. My guess is that we may have lost around 25% by this point, some of which would of course be naturally regenerated over time in the absence of human activity. Any biomass above that dotted line has to be supported by human technology and energy supplies (which at this point are mostly from fossil fuels).

The conclusion is that we have been living in the midst of an accelerating Global Mass Extinction Event for over 100 years already. Unfortunately we’ve been too fixated on human issues like economics and politics to even notice, let alone realize what it means. Those who did realize the significance, both to wildlife and the human species, have been powerless to act in the face of economics and politics.

Paul gives the following further explanation for the graph:

The definition one uses for “carrying capacity” is so loose as to make it quite arbitrary. Here’s the definition I used: “The global carrying capacity is the total biomass of the organisms under consideration that the planet can support without the assistance of technology or fossil fuels.”

Accordingly, I estimated the carrying capacity in this case as being about the same as the world’s wild animal biomass in 10,000 BCE, with the assumption that the unassisted carrying capacity of the world would have been fully utilized at that point. I estimated the wild animal biomass in 10,000 BCE as being somewhat less than the combined wild and domestic animal biomass in 1900, per Smil. I made it lower in order to account for the technological intensification of farming already well under way by that time.

The slope of the carrying capacity line is arbitrary, because it’s impossible to determine how much we have actually eroded the world’s unassisted carrying capacity. We just know that we have. I chose the slope to correspond to my belief that we’ve eroded it by about 25% at this point. The actual slope is therefore somewhat editorial.

The Dalai Lama says, “Affection, a sense of community and a sense of concern for others are not some kind of luxury. They’re about the survival of humanity,” but the socio-economic system that rules the world is characterized by hyper-individualism and self-interest devoid of moral constraints. A system that enshrines greed and mocks equity and the public good will never be able to find a solution to the tragedy of privatizing the commons.

All lights are about to go out. No more electricity. All forms of transportation are about to stop, and the planet Earth will soon have a crust of skulls and bones and dead machinery. And nobody can do a thing about it. It’s too late in the game. Don’t spoil the party, but here’s the truth: We have squandered our planet’s resources, including air and water, as though there were no tomorrow, so now there isn’t going to be one.
~ Kurt Vonnegut

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Louis Bloom: Hyper-Capitalist 2.0

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In the movie Nightcrawler, Lou Bloom is a member of today’s lost generation of unemployed youths and he ekes out an existence by cannibalizing L.A.’s infrastructure for scrap metal money. After watching a stringer journalist film a car crash, the wheels in Lou’s head start turning and he immediately recognizes an opportunity. He immerses himself in the lucrative business of vulture journalism where stories are marketable only if the victims are white and live in affluent neighborhoods. Fear of urban crime creeping into the suburbs is what really sells. Lou’s gravitation towards the world of sensationalized, ratings-driven mainstream news seems a natural development for someone able to dehumanize and objectify people for the sake of a story. In fact, Lou becomes an artist of the macabre like photographers Arthur ‘Weegee’ Fellig or Enrique Metinides, using the camera to capture tragedy and death in the most visually arresting way possible. He quickly rises to the top of the field while rationalizing his cutthroat behavior with the platitudes of corporate self-help books and entrepreneurial manuals.

Gyllenhaal’s dramatic weight loss for the role of Lou was a brilliant move that renders the actor unrecognizable and gives him the look of a half-starved animal desperate for his next meal. The hungry coyotes that prowl the L.A. suburbs at night served as animal symbolism for Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of the cunning Lou who sees the corpses of his fellow human beings as merely stepping-stones to success. Halloween was a fitting day for the debut of a movie featuring such a protagonist whose ruthless drive to get to the top and whose only consideration is the bottom line are the real horrors of today’s institutionalized greed.

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Lou could be considered a ‘disruptor‘ in L.A.’s market of freelance video journalism. He views everything solely in terms of his sociopathic business plan to expand and grow at any cost. For him, human relationships exist merely for economic gain. With consummate skill, he is able to warp anyone’s moral compass, twisting people’s own weaknesses against them in order to gain leverage for what he wants. Joe Loder (Bill Paxton), the leading competitor in the nightcrawler industry, falls prey to Lou in what could sardonically be called a ‘hostile takeover’.

The young homeless man named Rick (Riz Ahmed), whom Lou recruits as his hapless assistant and intern at the slave wage of $30 per night, meets a similar fate when he tries to negotiate for a higher wage. The darkly humorous relationship between these two serves as satirical commentary on today’s exploitive labor practices by corporations such as unpaid internships and the financial bondage of visa workers. Human resources, like other “resources,” are disposable inputs.

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Nina Romina (Rene Russo) is the news director of a local TV station to whom Lou sells his gruesome work. Like his other victims, Lou identifies her most vulnerable insecurities and uses them to worm his way higher up in the ranks of shock-and-awe TV news. A mutually parasitic relationship develops between the two as Nina demands more eye-popping footage to boost her station’s rating and secure her job while Lou is more than happy to provide it no matter what ethical boundaries are crossed. At some point, the tail begins to wag the dog and news becomes a staged event created for mass consumption by a TV audience eager for the next lurid spectacle.

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Below is a fascinating interview with the movie’s director Dan Gilroy who discusses the messages the story makes about capitalism and modern society.

Some quotes from the director:

“…maybe the problem isn’t just Lou… The problem might be a society that creates a Lou and rewards Lou…”

“Every scene in Nightcrawler is ultimately a transaction. I’m very interested in the economic aspects of it, what it says about capitalism. I believe that Lou moves through a landscape of a world of transactions. I believe that’s the world we’re increasingly living in. I believe it’s a much more dog-eat-dog world. I believe that people are much more aware that whatever safety net we thought was there is really not there. What used to be a domestic competition is now a global competition. People are willing to do your job for a fraction of what you do.”

“I believe that Lou is representative of our times. And I believe the Lous are increasingly being rewarded… If you came back ten years in the film, Lou would probably be running a major company. I feel a lot of the people in the boardroom have sociopathic behavior and are being rewarded for it. They are making choices that are affecting tens of thousands of people’s lives. They are putting people out on the street… What Lou does would serve him very well in the boardroom… He’s a uber-capitalist. He’s a hyper-capitalist… The thing about hyper-capitalism is that everything becomes bottom line. Hyper-capitalism to me almost becomes the jungle. It’s the strong will consume the weak.”

“If Nightcrawler shows anything, it’s that the world we live in is a very hard-edged place where people do not take into account human dignity… Look what we’ve come to.”

Paradise Lost and Future Pending

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The following video message is from Dr. Erik Pianka, an esteemed American biologist, one of the world’s most accomplished field ecologists, and author of the classic 1983 book Evolutionary Ecology. This video was made roughly four years ago. Not much has changed in the interim other than everything getting progressively worse —more people, more cars, more garbage landfills, more greenhouse gas emissions, more ocean acidification, more extinctions, etc…

To save the habitability of the Earth, many enlightened environmentalists and thinkers have proposed a radical but simple solution which calls for a reconfiguration of modern society into a much lower energy-intensive way of life with food production localized and resources socialized —just the opposite of what is now happening in our no-holds-barred global capitalist system. However, the time for a transition was decades ago before we had gone so far into overshoot that world powers are now scrambling to lay claim to the melting Arctic, carving up Africa for its land and water while unleashing a pandemic, and contaminating the dwindling aquifers with fracking waste. Our so-called leaders are too busy constructing an omnipresent spying Panopticon to bother noticing the gathering storm of climatic hellfire and brimstone. When harsh reality finally assert itself, such human folly will have created unfathomable catastrophes.

Not many have given much thought to how America will feed itself after the collapse of California’s agriculture industry is complete:

Farming is never going to go back, regardless of how much rain we get next year, to the way it was in the ’70s and ’80s. It’s a long-term era of scarcity.

California is much bigger than it was when these reservoirs were built, 40 or 50 years ago. There’s more water going to cities and the environment now. That boom era of California farming, I think everyone recognizes, is just a thing of the past.

They used to flood-irrigate everything here. When I was a kid, growing up, you’d walk outside in the middle of summer, six or seven months since the last rain, and it would be humid outside because there’d be so much irrigation going on. You hardly ever see anything flood-irrigated anymore. That time, that’s just not coming back.

The solution is not the techno-utopian fantasy of cold fusion. Even if cold fusion was a realistic possibility, the creation of unlimited amounts of ultra-cheap energy wielded in the hands of techno-capitalist man would surely spell disaster for any last vestiges of life that might have survived the omnicide of capitalist industrial civilization and the age of fossil fuels. A good steward of the Earth’s resources and web of life would never have perpetuated the 6th mass extinction and defiled the planet that gave birth to his kind while arrogantly naming himself Homo sapiens (Latin: “Wise man”).

Capitalist carbon man acted like a bull in a china shop, throwing his weight around and blindly destroying everything in his path. Now he wants to invent even more disruptive tools with which to save himself from the very techno-nightmare that he has already created? He treated the biosphere like a buyosphere, and money was his God. His epitaph was inscribed long ago by Oscar Wilde who perceptively said, “They know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

Tragically, humans had their chance in a magnificent paradise and they blew it in spades.

Weekend Funnies for the Depressed Collapsitarian #10

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No matter if the weekend has arrived or not, when I feel like life has become a grotesque parody of itself then it’s time for another installment of ‘Weekend Funnies for the Depressed Collapsitarian’…

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An animated GIF from graphic wizard ABVH (via Featured E-Magazine):animated-gifs-of-nemo_s-and-os-gemeos-by-abvh-1

Years after they have destroyed main street, central banks have recently admitted that their policies benefit only the wealthyunnamedThe inconvenient truth that GDP=CO2 Emissions…
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“Chinese People will not be stopped by anything. If pollution ruins a river, we will build a new river. If pollution destroys a mountain, we will build a new mountain. At long last, the world cannot ignore our growing prosperity.”

The power of positive thinking for the cancer man can be applied to Homo Economicus and his refusal to change his ways in spite of the collapsing biosphere… “It took inner strength to ignore all those climate scientists.”

Debate: ‘Are Violent Video Games Adequately Preparing Children For The Apocalypse’
“They are going to need the more practical skills like how to build a shelter from abandoned cars or how to get drinking water by collecting the morning dew in human skulls.”

The Systemic Roots of a Global Pandemic

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Over the ages, a number of empires have exploited and looted the resource-rich lands of Africa. At its height, the Roman Empire stretched from Scotland in the northern hemisphere to the deserts of Africa in the south. The Romans stripped their North African territory of its trees, making it their breadbasket of grain production. Originating in central Africa, malaria was likely spread to the center of the Roman Empire on their cargo ships. Passengers on their boats could have carried malaria in their bloodstream before becoming symptomatic, and water barrels on board could have harbored mosquito larvae. In fact, the DNA work of Dr. Robert Sallares has proven that the most lethal form of malaria helped topple ancient Rome. Fast forwarding to today, the blow-back from industrial agriculture and transnational corporate land grabs in Africa has now reached the shores of the hegemonic American Empire in the form of a deadly tropical disease called Ebola.

The Roman Empire seized fertile African land by brute force, but in modern times capitalist industrial civilization takes over Third World countries with the stroke of a pen. Structural adjustment loans by such tools of western power as the IMF and World Bank are signed requiring privatization of the economy and government cuts in social spending. Vast tracks of forests are cleared for mining or monoculture crop production such as palm oil. Subsistence farmers are dispossessed of their ancestral lands and forced to migrate to cities in search of work. Deprived of adequate healthcare and the opportunity to earn a livable wage, these urban poor live in squalor and are driven to hunt in the surrounding forests for a cheap source of protein known as bushmeat. Fruit bats, a keystone environmental species, have been identified as an Ebola virus host that has spread the disease through bushmeat consumption, habitat destruction, and human encroachment. Thus the neoliberal agenda of ‘developed’ nations has acted to create the atmosphere from which this pandemic arose.

Due to the long history of exploitation by outside powers, native Africans are justifiably wary and prone to conspiracy theories involving intervention by Western institutions as well as their own governments which have been, to a great degree, corrupted by the resource curse. These unpleasant facts are, of course, never mentioned by the MSM because it might spark a flicker of moral compunction in the ‘developed’ world which has ended up with so much of Africa’s wealth in the form of rare earth minerals used inside electronic devices, gold and diamonds in jewelry, or petrol pumped into vehicles. The horrific realities behind conflict minerals are always kept out of sight and out of mind by the next consumer diversion.

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The following video is a brilliant lecture by Rob Wallace, evolutionary biologist and public health phylogeographer, discussing the epidemiologic links between the current Ebola outbreak and the socioeconomic policies of capitalist industrial civilization.

“Pathogens routinely trace society’s inequalities and expropriations like water traces cracks in ice… Ebola represents such a case. The shifts in land use in the Guinean region where the new strain apparently emerged are connected to the kinds of neoliberal structural adjustments that, alongside divesting public health infrastructure, open domestic food production to global circuits of capital… [The corporate agribusiness land acquisitions in Africa] are markers of a complex policy-driven faith change in agroecology…that undergirds Ebola’s emergence here.” ~ Rob Wallace

In biology there is a phenomenon known as the Allee effect which occurs when a species declines to a critical population threshold, becoming too spread out over a large area to find a mate for reproduction and thereby making a crash to extinction all but inevitable. The Allee effect applies to infectious diseases as well, and if you can knock down an outbreak below an infection threshold through such methods as vaccinations or proper sanitation, then the outbreak can burn out on its own. However, as Rob Wallace wryly states, “…structural problems can render emergency responses null and void, no matter how much Bill Gates pays out.” In other words, we may have destroyed the ecosystem’s natural ability to keep such pathogens in check and from expanding out of control in the future:

“…commoditizing the forest and neoliberal dispossession may have lowered the region’s ecosystemic threshold to a point that no emergency intervention can drive the pathogen population low enough to burn out on its own. The pathogen will continue to circulate with the potential to explode. In short, neoliberalism’s shifts aren’t just a background upon which such emergencies take place. It is the emergency as much as the virus itself. And history has demonstrated this time and again. Faith changes and social organization, for better and for worse, change epidemiologies. Domesticated livestock served as sources for human diphtheria, influenza, measles, mumps, plague, pertussis, rotavirus, tuberculosis, sleeping sickness, etc. Ecological changes brought about upon landscapes by human intervention selected for spill-overs of cholera from algae, malaria from birds, and dengue fever and yellow fever from wild primates… We can pretend otherwise for Ebola, but in protecting the rationals for institutions and policies that likely brought about such outbreaks, if as byproducts of a greater economy alone, we will surely only compound the problem. If not by Ebola this year, then perhaps something else next.”

In addition to the ecosystemic impact of industrial agriculture and global circuits of capital, our highly mobile society and the consequent climate disruption from fossil-fueled globalization have worked to propel the spread of invasive species, diseases, and pathogens:

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The following graph show the increase of invasive species since 1500 with an explosion in the last 100 years:

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Overuse of antibiotics and lack of developing new antibiotics are also facilitating the mutation, spread, and rebirth of deadly pathogens across the globe. No new class of antibiotics has been discovered since the 1980’s.

Below is a chart showing the increase in bacterial resistance for selected pathogens. “For example, Staphylococcus aureus resistant to methicillin has increased almost 70% since about 1975.” The dawning of an antibiotic apocalypse is upon us:

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A new tv special entitled The Trouble with Antibiotics aired this past week (h/t reader PBM):

“FRONTLINE investigates the widespread use of antibiotics in food animals and whether it is fueling the growing crisis of antibiotic resistance in people. Plus an exclusive interview with the family of a young man who died in a superbug outbreak that swept through a hospital at the National Institutes of Health.”

Amplifying what some call peak antibiotics is the fact that in our capitalist economy, the perverse incentive for monetary profit discourages pharmaceutical companies from developing new antibiotics; there is no market for curing… only prolonging:

…Ebola emerged 40 years ago, and, Dr. Chan said, there were no vaccines or other remedies because it has traditionally been confined to poor African countries. A profit-driven pharmaceutical industry had no incentive to make products for countries that could not pay, she said.

The risks of neglecting health care in developing countries are global, Dr. Chan said, adding that “when a deadly and dreaded virus hits the destitute and spirals out of control, the whole world is put at risk.”… – link

The budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has also stagnated, leaving Dr. Francis Collins, head of the NIH, to admit that an Ebola vaccine would likely have been found by now if not for budget cuts:

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The fragmented and “crapified” nature of America’s for-profit healthcare system has also factored into the fumbled response to Ebola’s invasion into America, as Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism explained recently:

…the statistics say compared to other developed countries, US processes and outcomes are at best mediocre using the best of some admittedly flawed metrics (look here), yet our costs are much higher than those of comparable countries. Furthermore, on Health Care Renewal we have been connecting the dots among severe problems with cost, quality and access on one hand, and huge problems with concentration and abuse of power, enabled by leadership of health care organizations that is ill-informed, incompetent, unsympathetic or hostile to health care professionals’ values, self-interested, conflicted, dishonest, or even corrupt and governance that fails to foster transparency, accountability, ethics and honesty…

…The US health care system is now heavily commercialized. Health care corporations, including pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, are often lead by generic managers who subscribe to the business school dogma of the “shareholder value theory,” which seems to translate into putting short-term revenues ahead of all other goals. Thus they have been“financialized.”  At least in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sector, such financialization appears to now be global…

…from 1983 to 2000, the number of managers working in the US health care system grew 726%, while the number of physicians grew 39%, so the manager/physician ratio went from roughly one to six to one to one (see 2005 post here). As we noted here, the growth continued, so there are now 10 managers for every US physician…

International institutions such as the World Health Organization (WHO) have also been “crapified’ under neoliberal ideology:

There is little wonder why the Ebola outbreak caught the WHO so flat footed as they spent months making mealy mouthed statements but never coordinating an effective response. The Gates foundation is the WHO boss, not governments, and if they weren’t demanding action, then the desperate people affected by Ebola weren’t going to get any…

…The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged an additional $50 million to fight the current Ebola epidemic but that too is problematic, as Director General Chan describes. “When there’s an event, we have money. Then after that, the money stops coming in, then all the staff you recruited to do the response, you have to terminate their contracts.” The WHO should not be lurching from crisis to crisis, SARS, MERS, or H1N1 influenza based on the whims of philanthropy. The principles of public health should be carried out by knowledgeable medical professionals who are not dependent upon rich people for their jobs.

The Gates are not alone in using their deep pockets to confound what should be publicly held responsibilities. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced that he was contributing $25 million to fight Ebola. His donation will go to the Centers for Disease Control Foundation. Most Americans are probably unaware that such a foundation even exists. Yet there it is, run by a mostly corporate board which will inevitably interfere with the public good…

Essentially, both ISIS and the Ebola pandemic are crises of the corporate state’s own making. Vast sums of money have flowed into America’s war machine to fight the terrorist threat of ISIS, yet the specter of a global pandemic has elicited a much more belated and tepid reaction from the leaders of our brave new privatized and financialized system of government. As with climate change, it has become clear once again that the health of the world and its people cannot be trusted with these adherents of neoliberal capitalism, and as I stated in a previous blog post, the conspiracy is systemic and legalized. The virus of capitalist industrial civilization appears to be on an unstoppable trajectory of burning itself out within our children’s lifetime.

“It was a nice run for the biosphere, but it finally came down with a lethal disease, homeostasis lost, the pyramid of life reduced to the pancake of life.” ~ James