Man In The Box

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“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”  ~ Aldous Huxley

The foundation beneath our house of cards is beginning to buckle and heave. For far too long, humans have poked the sleeping monster of abrupt climate change and it’s starting to awaken. Thus far, nearly a thousand deaths in British Columbia alone are likely attributable to hyperthermia caused by a persistent heat dome that has spiked temperatures to unprecedented levels. Take note that we are seeing these unreal temperature spikes at the end of a cooler La Nina cycle. When these heat domes form during the next warmer El Nino cycle, the results will be disastrous. We have now made such mass casualty events 150 times more likely with our heat-trapping gases which have doubled the earth’s energy imbalance in just the last 15 years. Over a billion sea creatures are estimated to have cooked to death off the western shores of Canada. “Eventually, we just won’t be able to sustain these populations of filter feeders on the shoreline to be anywhere near the extent that we’re used to,” says Chris Harley, a marine biologist at the University of British Columbia. This will have massive effects up and down many ecological networks. Remember last year when Australia’s mega-fires killed or harmed 3 billion animals? I thought that horrific trauma would be mankind’s epiphany on climate change, but it’s clear that as long as there is a dollar to be made there will be justification for genocide and ecocide. The planet’s last remaining natural resources and biodiversity are being liquidated at breakneck speed in order to maintain the colossal enterprise of industrial civilization. 

Modern society is more connected than ever digitally, but not emotionally or intimately. Too fragmented and dysfunctional to save itself, we exist not as human beings but as consumers and statistical numbers on a spreadsheet. Thus it is easy to write off the millions of deaths from industrial pollution as a cost of doing business, especially when the rules of the game are written for shareholders far removed from the damage being wrought. Our suicidal march into the abyss seems to be preordained because we have paid no heed to an endless stream of dire scientific reports and warnings that span decades. Like the collapse of the Surfside apartment building in Miami where the residents lived oblivious to warnings signs from decades ago, the collapse of industrial civilization will follow a similar response to anthropogenic climate breakdown. At this late stage, techno-optimists still cling to the belief that somehow we can adapt and thrive in an inhospitable and deteriorating post-Holocene epoch. At the same time, disinformation and propaganda continue to be spread by those who are outright denying the growing existential threat. The end result is the same, no matter which side prevails. Humans can’t even agree on what is reality, so how could they possibly organize a coherent response in time:

There is no escape from this cage modern man has constructed for himself. As lead scientist Dr. Robert Rohde at @BerkeleyEarth points out, 78% of humanity’s energy systems are powered by fossil fuels as of 2020. Oil and gas took 90 years to displace coal as the main energy source, illustrating that transitions take a very long time and ‘renewables’ remain a small fraction of total energy consumed. Scientists are becoming increasingly unnerved:

“We should be alarmed because the IPCC models are just not good enough,” Dame Julia Slingo of the @metoffice says.

“The obvious acceleration of the breakdown of our stable climate simply confirms that – when it comes to the climate emergency – we are in deep, deep s***!” says UCL’s @ProfBillMcGuire. “Many in the climate science community would agree, in private if not in public.”

“It blows my mind that we could get the temperatures that we’re observing here in the Pacific north-west, especially on the west sides of the Cascades that have that proximity to the ocean, that it could get that hot for so many days in a row,” said Nick Bond, Washington state climatologist. “I would have been willing to guess something like that in the middle of the century, in the latter part of the century.”

“The extreme nature of the record, along with others, is a cause for real concern,” says veteran scientist Professor Sir Brian Hoskins. “What the climate models project for the future is what we would get if we are lucky. The models’ behaviour may be too conservative.”

As has been pointed out before, but which is still not accepted let alone understood by the vast majority, is that even if we employed techno-fixes such as Bill Gates’ Solar Radiation Management Company, it would not stop climate change’s evil twin, ocean acidification, which is threatening to collapse the entire marine ecosystem. A recent paper by marine biologists and environmental consultants has warned that human society faces extinction if nothing is done to reverse the destruction of the oceans:

Over the last 70 years since the 1950’s and the production of toxic forever chemicals and plastic, more than 50% of all marine life, including plants and animals under 1 mm in size, have been lost from the world’s oceans, and that decline continues at a rate of 1% year on year…Over the next 25 years, pH will continue to drop from pH8.04 to pH7.95, and carbonate-based life forms will simply dissolve. This will result with an estimated 80% to 90% loss of all remaining marine life when compared to the 1950’s. Becoming carbon neutral will not stop the pH from dropping to 7.95, and even in the unlikely event of the world achieving Net Zero by 2030 it will not stop the pH dropping to less than pH7.95. Coupled with the micro-plastic and toxic chemical stressors on marine life, the GOES team believe there will be a trophic cascade collapse of the entire marine ecosystem.

Adding to this warning is another recent study showing that freshwater lakes are losing oxygen at a rate 9.3 times that of the oceans:

That matters, because not only do we get much of our drinking water from lakes and use them for recreational activities, but they support an extensive variety of species. “These substantial declines in oxygen potentially threaten biodiversity, especially the more oxygen-sensitive species,”…Rose identified a second problem too: Deep water is becoming less clear because of a host of factors including erosion, algal growth, and fertilizer runoff from nearby agricultural fields and residential developments. Murkier waters make plants less likely to survive, which means less photosynthesis and less oxygen down below. And that, of course, is bad news for the lakes’ creatures. “Just like humans, every complex life form on the planet depends on oxygen,” Rose says. “In water, that’s in the dissolved form.”

There was a study a few years ago which concluded that deoxygenation of the world’s waters from a warming world is what really drove the end-Permian mass extinction. The lead author is quoted as saying:

“This study shows that we’re on that same road toward extinction, and the question is how far down it we go.”

Keep in mind that we don’t have to reach the same elevated levels of CO2 in past geologic extinction events for things to get really nasty, causing modern civilization to crumble. Remember also that the Anthropocene Extinction has multiple prongs such as chemical and plastic pollution, deforestation, and other manmade pressures on the environment that did not exist in Earth’s history. According to paleontologist Dr. Peter Ward, all major extinctions occurred when CO2 levels exceeded 1000ppm. Past extinction events took hundreds of thousands to millions of years to play out, but our current rate of change is 25,000 times faster than the last known event (Paleocene Thermal Extinction) which took a million years for CO2 to increase by 100ppm. We are on track to reach 1000ppm within a century, but we’ll never get there of our own volition because our civilization will be toast long before then; however, once tipping points in the climate system are breached, positive feedback loops will have been set in motion that will propel CO2 levels upward beyond our control. For instance, the Amazon is now emitting more carbon than it is absorbing. In an interview four years ago, Dr Ward gave this warning:

“…we really are going to have unintended consequences and much more rapid heating than even the models say — for the simple reason that the [IPCC] models are highly conservative, too conservative.”

You may be asking yourself when humans will finally wise up and end this madness. Henri L Vichier-Guerre, a reader of this blog, recently posted a quote from a very good book entitled Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change by Clive Hamilton in 2010:

…even with the most optimistic set of assumptions – the ending of deforestation, a halving of emissions associated with food production, global emissions peaking in 2020 and then falling by 3 per cent a year for a few decades – we have no chance of preventing emissions rising well above a number of critical tipping points that will spark uncontrollable climate change. The Earth’s climate would enter a chaotic era lasting thousands of years before natural processes eventually establish some sort of equilibrium. Whether human beings would still be a force on the planet, or even survive, is a moot point. One thing seems certain: there will be far fewer of us.

As Henri L Vichier-Guerre points out, none of those optimistic things have happened in the intervening years. On the contrary, the ecological destruction has accelerated and the chances of anyone at all surviving grows more remote with each passing year. Henri goes on to quote the following on why no one in any significant seat of power is talking about our impending doom:

Not everyone believes we should be completely forthright with the general public about the depths of our crisis, including many of those in our Government.

Because it’s far too late to do anything to mitigate the crisis.

Far too late to avoid a global environmental, ecological and economic catastrophe.

This may go some way to explaining why the general public is still not being told the truth by Governments around the world.

It may go some way to explaining why many of the super-rich have already set up lavish underground ‘doomsday bunkers’ where they and their families can bug out when the shit hits the fan.

We have plenty of bread and circus distractions to keep us preoccupied until the very end. Television did not get its name ‘The Boob Tube’ for nothing. Now we have the infinite scroll of websites to hypnotize and control the masses. Click that ‘Like’ button. Sophisticated social media algorithms feed you what you want to see and hear 24/7. Cognitive biases are reinforced and facts no longer matter in a world suffering from severe truth decay. Aldous Huxley’s vision of a world driven by absolute consumerism that sacrifices human values and controls the masses with a non-stop supply of diversions via mindless entertainment and sensorial stimulation has become a dystopic reality. Just as in his book, it’s all happening in broad daylight with the tacit acceptance of everyone as we watch the world burn.

We’re All Just Temporary Passengers on Spaceship Earth.

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I recently asked a scientist on Facebook how he copes with the knowledge that we are destroying the planet within the geologic blink of an eye. Here is his answer:

Pot helps! 🙂 But psychologically, I reread Catton’s Overshoot recently, where he talks about how once humans started burning fossil fuels, we evolved (devolved?) into detritivores, species that depend on dead organic matter for our sustenance. This led me to think about Human Exceptionalism. The classic view is that humans’ assumed superiority has caused us to not consider the welfare of other species and blinded us in our ignorance to how our lifestyles were jeopardizing life support systems worldwide (including for us); I agree with this view. But I’ve also come to challenge another view of Human Exceptionalism; namely, that we have the intelligence and capacity for compassion to override what is every species’ imperative (humans and all other species): that is, to continuously consume available resources with no concern for future sustainability, with its concomitant and inevitable population boom and bust. Thus, I try to cope by accepting, with sad resignation, that we’re not any more special than other species – we’ve just lacked apex predators to keep our population in check and have used hundreds of millions of years of stored solar energy (i.e. fossil fuels) to temporarily shield ourselves from our population crash. This final kicking us off our superiority pedestal has helped me “let go” and inspired me to aspire to be more in tune with natural processes (such as organic gardening, which also helps on a very small scale to restore the soil biodiversity we’re regularly destroying with the Haber-Bosch process). How do you cope? 🙂

I replied later that day…

To cope, you first must know the truth. Our modern global civilization is a heat engine, subject to the second law of thermodynamics just as every civilization that came before. Our massive burning of fossil fuels has not only blanketed the atmosphere with heat-trapping gases and acidified the oceans, it has given humans the unfortunate ability to disrupt all the major biochemical processes of the planet, thus making the current civilizational collapse one of global proportions. There is no putting that genie back in the bottle and the environmental disorder it has unleashed. Thus we are firmly in the grips of entropy and no amount of techo-fixes, such as walls to hold back the rising sea or geoengineering schemes to blot out that fiery orb in the sky, will change this stark fact. As Jospeph Tainter argued, further complexity only brings more unforeseen problems that must be solved. Higher efficiency only leads to increased consumption (i.e. Jevons paradox). As you say, humans are no different than any other organism in that they will expand to consume all available resources until reined in by environmental limits. Our superior problem-solving capabilities have allowed us to dramatically overshoot the planet’s natural regenerative systems. And so it seems that Ernst Mayr was correct when he said human intelligence is a fatal mutation in the evolutionary process. According to Mayr, intelligence is a double-edged sword, serving as a tool for our survival or rapidly carrying out our own annihilation. How do I cope with all that? Other than adopting a stoic attitude towards our predicament, there is no coping. It is what it is. Find simple joys in nature while nature is still around. I love hummingbirds and watch them at the feeder when I am home. Live in the moment when you can. Enjoy mankind’s ability to create beautiful art. Be kind to your fellow human and nonhuman. We’re all just temporary passengers on Spaceship Earth.

Now that America’s wannabe dictator has vacated the White House, maybe we can get back to pretending we’re doing anything of significance about climate change and the ghastly future bearing down on us. I’m sure we’ll get right on that existential crisis as soon as we tamp down the current global pandemic, sort out Trump’s QAnon and white nationalist seditionists, and bring together a country where half the population believes their cult leader’s endless lies and the evangelical Right idolize Trump as a vessel anointed by God. So much for heeding warnings against idolizing false prophets. Despite all those minor details, we’ll all be on the same page, right? Well won’t we???

Tim Garrett, physicist/professor of atmospheric sciences who hypothesised that civilization is effectively a heat engine whose power is expressed in the form of economic growth, admits that we will never decarbonize.

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It’s rather jarring to see an expert like Tim Garrett, whose work I have followed for many years, come out and say so bluntly that we will not do the steps needed to save ourselves. And the reason is very simple…

People will raise hell if their right to pollute and consume is severely curtailed. We see this today with people’s refusal to simply wear a damn mask and do what’s for the greater good in a global pandemic. Now can you imagine the outrage when they are told they have to drastically reduce their living standards to prevent catastrophic climate change, a threat we cannot see but which will nevertheless destroy us in the long run? The reality that humans are causing the climate to warm, with catastrophic consequences, demands radical government intervention in the market as well as collective action on an unprecedented scale. This has been known for decades and those catastrophic consequences are now coming to fruition, yet we remain a carbon-based, growth-oriented civilization.

The later the “peak” the harder the reductions, bearing in mind that it is the area under the lines (cumulative emissions) which ensures a 2°C outcome. The 2020 peak (above) indicates the “unprecedented” 10% reductions trajectory giving only a 50/50 chance of staying under 2°C.

Prof Kevin Anderson says there is no longer a non radical option, and for developed economies to play an equitable role in holding warming to 2°C (with 66% probability) emissions compared to 1990 levels would require at least a 40% reduction by 2018, 70% reduction by 2024, and 90% by 2030. This would require “in effect a Marshall plan for energy supply”. Low-carbon supply technologies cannot deliver the necessary rate of emission reductions, and they need to be complemented with rapid, deep and early reductions in energy consumption, what Anderson calls a radical emission reduction strategy. All this suggests that even holding warming to a too high 2°C limit now requires an emergency approach. Emergency action has proven fair and necessary for great social and economic challenges we have faced before. Call it the great disruption, the war economy, emergency mode, or what you like; the story is still the same, and it is now the only remaining viable path.

~ David Spratt, The Myth of Burnable Carbon, Climate Code Red, 2014.

Not only do we need to halt future CO2 emissions, but we need to magically extract CO2 already in the atmosphere with technology that does not exist. Quoting Prof Anderson from last month:

…in 2020 such technologies remain highly speculative, with a few very small laboratory/pilot schemes now operating, with other proposed technologies still in the imagination of academics and tech-entrepreneurs. This faith in utopian technology reflects a deep and systemic bias that has hugely undermined the real scale of the mitigation challenge and misinformed policy makers for many years.

Our fate is sealed.

A Second Trump Term Will Prove Even More Deadly For Americans

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“It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle – it will disappear.” ~ Trump

Who would have guessed that a reality TV “star”, con-artist, and political hack would be the one person to shake America’s institutions of government to their core? Then again, Hitler was a down-and-out artist before he became a dictator. Lots of people warned that this time with D.J. Trump would come even before he finagled his way into the White House. From his days of swindling hundreds, if not thousands, of small business contractors and workers to laundering money and defrauding the U.S. government, his tenure as president has been no less riddled with corruption, back-stabbing, lying, and cheating. Since Trump cannot retain power through the traditional means of tinpot dictators via military coup, he is using an army of lawyers who will question every mail-in ballot and use every legal maneuver in an attempt to render the 2020 election results null and void. This summer, Trump began a campaign to sabotage mail-in voting after falsely claiming it was fraught with fraud and then hiring one of his unscrupulous cronies, GOP Megadonor Louis DeJoy, to cripple the U.S. postal service. However, the GOP plan to destroy majority rule really kicked into gear with their ‘gerrymandering on steroids’ strategy which was hatched more than a decade ago when right-wing strategists concluded that taking over state legislatures would enable them to redraw districts and control the outcome of elections.

Over the last four years, Trump has amassed a laundry list of skuldugery such as abusing his high office to delegitimize any reporting critical of his administration by labeling it “fake news”, exacerbating an atmosphere of doubt, mistrust, and suspicion of the government by perpetuating numerous conspiracy theories, stoking racial tensions with incendiary rhetoric while ignoring the mounting anger over police brutality, perverting the rule of law by stacking the courts with unqualified GOP-friendly judges, installing a henchman named William Barr to run the DOJ and help give the president autocratic powers, and politicizing science by censoring government researchers and dismantling science-based health and safety protections. All of these tactics have been used by dictators of foreign countries to eliminate opposition leaders and control the population. Muzzling of scientists is a global problem that is getting worse. Trump has single handedly made the US a pariah on the world stage as he cozies up to dictators while belittling and undercutting traditional Western allies. In fact, America’s reputation in the world is the lowest it’s been since such surveys began two decades ago. There’s no hiding that Trump would love nothing more than to turn America into a Russian-style dictatorship where he could rule for life, rob the public purse at will, and kill dissidents with impunity.

Had Trump properly handled the pandemic that continues to upend the economy and ravage people’s lives, 90% of U.S. coronavirus pandemic fatalities could have been prevented. Life would be drastically different from what we are experiencing today. By January 2021, pandemic fatalities in the U.S. are projected to more than double from their current number of over 200,000. This will be Trump’s macabre achievement for his criminally negligent handling of this pandemic. He was able to do much more than when he proclaimed he could stand on 5th Avenue, shoot someone, and get away with it. In fact, due to his lack of leadership, downplaying of the virus, obfuscation of CDC reporting, and failure to enact a coherent national plan, he will have killed more Americans than whom died in World War II. By comparison, that’s twenty-five to fifty times the number of Americans who die on average in any given year from the flu. Trump may blame China, the WHO, Democrats, or anyone else for unleashing this plague, but it was his deliberate and willful abdication of his duty as president to protect public health and safety that has created his coronavirus killing fields. Who hasn’t heard the Bob Woodward tapes from early February 2020 of Trump explicitly saying that the virus is much more deadly than any strenuous flu and extremely contagious? All the while he has downplayed the danger to the public, even going so far as to say it was a “hoax” by the Democrats? To this very day, he perpetuates these lies while corralling his cult followers into close quarters for his self-aggrandizing MAGA rallies. His followers are oblivious to the fact that they serve as nothing more than disposable props at these grotesque events. He mocks masks, the most effectiive tool we have against the virus. He likes to claim that his China travel ban saved many lives but, like so many things he says, the opposite is true. His ban had many holes and actually may have worsened the outbreak in the United States. In addition, Trump’s downplaying of the virus has allowed it to fester in the U.S. and likely mutate into a more contagious strain; whether it transforms into something more deadly is all a matter of a genetic roll of the dice. Experts are fearing a double whammy from both the flu and the COVID-19 coronavirus this winter.

With historic megafires raging along the entire west coast in the new normal of inferno seasons, Trump tells climate scientists directly to their face that “it will get colder, just wait and see” and “I don’t think science knows about climate.” In the meantime, he’ll be spending millions shoring up his golf course properties from the rising seas. Over eight feet of sea level rise is already locked in from Antarctic ice melt alone, even if Paris climate agreements are fulfilled. As Biden says, Trump is a “climate arsonist.” At this point, I cannot help but view anyone who supports this catastrophic president as anything other than a traitor to their own country.

At a time where compassion and honesty are most in need as our civilization runs headlong into the limits of a finite planet, the world appears to be going in the opposite direction of more magical thinking, selfish nationalism, and diminishing human rights. The destruction Trump has done is real and four more years of him will guarantee further damage for decades to come. For instance, many of the dozens of environmental regulations that Trump has rolled back will likely be permanently cemented into place by Trump-appointed judges. These rollbacks are already causing countless premature deaths in the U.S. The amount of carbon his legislative actions will have put into the atmosphere by 2035 is estimated to be the equivalent of Russia’s annual emissions. The EPA will become a shell of its former self, having been completely usurped by corporate interests to pollute without restraint. Other countries are already following America’s lead of completely disregarding the threat of anthropogenic climate disruption. Any semblance of democracy will be shredded as Trump’s swamp of greed, corruption, and white nationalism runs amok. Conspiracy theories will run rampant as daily life becomes ever more precarious in a climate of fear and science becomes completely subjugated by economy, polity, and religion. There is a prescient quote from Carl Sagan that warns of the dystopian world we are well on our way to creating:

“I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness…

The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance”
~ Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark 

I shudder to think of the hellscape that awaits us with another term of Trumpian chaos. There are only two choices before us in our American corporatocracy, so let’s be pragmatic about our dire situation. I’ll take take Biden, the corporate friendly centrist who has a plan to contain the virus and a two trillion dollar climate change strategy, any day of the week over Trump, a corporate fascist masquerading as a populist who never had any national plan to effectively contain the virus and believes climate change is a hoax. Of course there are many other issues that make Biden the sane choice between the two. It’s comical how the Right-wing propaganda machine has painted Biden as some sort of bumbling socialist puppet, especially when you consider that Wall Street’s own analysts say that a Biden administration would be neutral to positive for them. Under Trump’s direction, the very wealthy were given big tax breaks that allowed them to pay less than the working class for the first time in history. And due to Trump’s gross mismanagement, our government’s budget deficit will soon exceed the size of the nation’s entire economy for the first time since World War II. A growing body count of dead Americans that rivals the biggest war fatalities in our nation’s history is happening as a result of Trump’s sociopathic response. Trump’s latest hairbrained scheme is to allow the American population to build herd immunity to the novel virus. Never mind that in the process we would incur fatalities in the millions and collapse the healthcare system which would raise the death toll even higher, or the fact that scientists doubt the population would even ever be able to reach such levels of immunity. Someone, please tell me how Trump has made America great again.

Age of Annihilation

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“We must now understand that our own well-being can be achieved only through the well-being of the entire natural world around us.” ~ Thomas Berry

As governments stared glass-eyed at what was unfolding in China earlier this year, the fragility of modern life’s interconnectedness was soon to be laid bare by a microscopic organism. Within a couple months of the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, airline travel from China had spread the novel virus to more than 60 countries. Despite decades of warnings about the inevitability of such an event, politicians had paid about as much lip service to preventing the next pandemic as they had to dealing with climate change. As has been warned by health experts, the best we can hope for is to blunt the effects of the COVID-19 disease on the global population; eradicating it will be futile. Something similar could be said of the legacy effects of our CO2 emissions which will haunt life on Earth for time immemorial.

A study from 2014 found the total number of infectious disease outbreaks has more than quadrupled between 1980 and 2010. Approximately 75% of all emerging infectious diseases originate from animals and chances for pandemics are increasing as humanity’s growing assault on the natural world disrupts what remains of the planet’s ecosystems. If you need further evidence that we are annihilating life on Earth, consider that the microscopic mite, among the oldest and most plentiful invertebrates on the planet and a keystone species in many ecosystems, is disappearing at least 1,000 times the natural rate. More novel zoonotic diseases will eventually be unleashed into the bloodstream of the globalized economy as corporations revive parasitic growth at the expense of a habitable planet. The coronavirus pandemic is a symptom of our unfolding Anthropocene Mass Extinction which is accelerating.

The current pandemic may well mark the beginning of the end for growth as we knew it. In the U.S. right now, there are 29 million unemployed and tens of thousands of small businesses that have closed during the pandemic will never reopen. In the Age of Environmental Breakdown, there can never be a return to normal. For the normal that industrial civilization has become accustomed to is the very thing ripping to pieces those white picket-fenced lives in suburbia. A Biden presidency may bring back some sense of sanity and order to those pursuing the illusion of the American Dream, but it won’t alter global civilization’s current trajectory toward an increasingly chaotic world of never-ending disasters. The synergistic effects of biodiversity collapse, climate change, and industrial pollution will act as a growing weight on the economy.

We just learned that Greenland’s ice sheets crossed a tipping point two decades ago and will never recover, as far as human timescales are concerned. Nothing will bring them back except another ice age, and humans have managed to erase the next one scheduled to have occurred some 50,000 years hence. 100,000 years will have past before the planet completely rids itself of the CO2 humans have loaded into the atmosphere. Second only to Antarctica in terms of ice volume, Greenland’s melt-off could eventually contribute 23 feet of global sea level rise. Antarctica’s ice sheets have also been found to be much more vulnerable to collapse than previously known, as rising atmospheric temperatures melt their surface and a warming ocean destabilizes them from below. Coastal erosion, flooding, and soil salinization from sea level rise are growing drags on the economy. About 40% of the global population lives near the coast and will account for the largest mass migration in human history. Indeed, billions of U.S. tax dollars are now being used in a new strategy to relocate entire neighborhoods from coastal regions persistently hit by flooding in recent years.

With the meltdown of the Earth’s cryosphere, we are witnessing a large-scale catastrophic disruption to a critical part of the Earth system under which all life has adapted. In particular, the relatively stable climate of the Holocene is what allowed for the development of agriculture and human civilization. We no longer live in that era; We have entered the chaos of the Anthropocene, a time of deadly climate disruption, social upheaval, mass extinction, and ultimately collapse of industrial civilization. With arctic amplification weakening jet streams, larger and more intense heat domes now form over geographic regions to help spark megafires, power grid blackouts, and heat-related deaths. In Phoenix AZ, a heatwave just obliterated a previous record of most days over 110°F (50 plus), and another record-breaking heatwave is on its way as I speak. California’s Death Valley just recorded the highest temperature on Earth since reliable records began. The six most recent years (2014-2019) and 2020 have been the hottest ever recorded, with each decade since 1980 being hotter than the previous.

The recent heatwave that thawed Siberia’s tundra, set it on fire, and caused an ecological disaster by collapsing a diesel fuel reservoir, could never have happened without the massive spike in CO2 emissions from mankind’s fossil-fuel binge. Summer wildfires in the Arctic set a record this year, emitting 34% more CO2 than in the prior year. Fires in the Amazon jungle are the worst in a decade. Wildfires in Arizona this year have already scarred more land than in the prior two years. Colorado just logged the biggest fire in its history and California’s wildfires are already on track to break records even though the fire season has just begun. Globally, wildfires have increased 13% over the prior record-breaking year of 2019. A more apt name for the Anthropocene might be the Pyrocene – Age of Fire.

Heatwaves aren’t just striking on land; they are also cooking the oceans. Increasingly severe and frequent marine heatwaves(MHWs) have surged by more than 50% in recent decades. Warming oceans help create more destructive and more frequent hurricanes and typhoons. They also threaten biodiversity and ecosystem function on a global scale. Scientists have observed that stony corals around the world are hunkering down into survival mode, exhibiting the same traits as they did prior to the last great extinction. Let that sink in for a moment…Yes, a relatively primitive organism with a rudimentary nervous system is actually preparing for a mass extinction while the so-called ‘Wise Ape’ blissfully carries on destroying his very own life-support systems.

“It was incredibly spooky to witness how corals are now exhibiting the same traits as they did at the last major extinction event,” said Professor David Gruber, a researcher and marine biologist with The Graduate Center, CUNY and Baruch College. “Corals seem to be preparing to jump across an extinction boundary, while we are putting our foot further on the pedal.”

Apparently, coral are not hampered by politics in their decision-making processes. These creatures of the primordial seas will likely outsurvive the Self-Absorbed Ape who has insulated himself in a technological cocoon of false security, oblivious to the harsh physical laws of nature indifferently working to take him down. Hell, scientists are now finding microplastics in every human tissue they examine, and the health effects are unknown. How’s that for forethought?

Scientists can issue warnings about our impending demise until they are blue in the face, and they have, but they and the public are at the mercy of economic, financial, and political forces beyond anyone’s power. Couple that with the fact that the average person on the street has a Trump-level of comprehension about these existential crises and is being bombarded on social media by fake news that plays on emotions and deep-rooted inter-group distrust. Cheap energy and the individualistic consumer culture have created an illusion of abundance and destroyed any sort of communal cooperation which was once the basis of everyday life. I’ve walked this Earth for over five decades and have seen a steady and continuous degradation of the natural world; corporate greenwashing is rampant. The growth in ‘green energy’ has not displaced fossil fuel fuel consumption to any great degree; fossil fuels still supply 84% of global energy consumption. Worse yet, just to maintain our current growth in energy consumption would require an unattainable expansion in alternative energies. If one connects all the dots on our current state, then there is no refuting this most clear-eyed of scientific assessments:

“Given the momentum in both the Earth and human systems, and the growing difference between the ‘reaction time’ needed to steer humanity towards a more sustainable future, and the ‘intervention time’ left to avert a range of catastrophes in both the physical climate system (e.g., melting of Arctic sea ice) and the biosphere (e.g., loss of the Great Barrier Reef), we are already deep into the trajectory towards collapse.”

The end of the world is the ‘cha-ching’ of a cash register as the last vestiges of nature are converted to dollars. Lest we forget, 71% of global emissions come from just 100 companies and more than half of global industrial emissions since 1988 originated from 25 corporate and state-owned entities. While the ultra-wealthy reap the profits of a poisoned ecology, the rest of the world is left to take the brunt of consequences from a world that grows more dangerous by the day. Those living on the edge who lost their livelihood during this pandemic are the collateral damage of an out-of-control socio-economic system whose incompatibility with life on Earth becomes more evident with each passing year. There’s nowhere to escape for most people because, to one degree or another, we are all entrapped in this system. The immutable laws of biology, physics, and chemistry have set an expiration date on America’s non-negotiable way of life, ensuring that many more will soon fall victim to the short-term greed of capitalism. As Stephen Hawking warned, “Stupidity and greed will kill off humans.”

The Apocalypse Will Not Be Televised

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“3D visualization” of the Australian fires by Anthony Hearsey, compiled from NASA satellite data collected across the span of a month/an injured koala bear sits alone on the ‘apocalyptic’ Kangaroo Island

The year is 2020 and climate change-related disasters are in full swing while at the same time, the most influential country in the world is under the leadership of someone who calls scientists “foolish fortune tellers.” Australia, another country being led to its slaughter by the willfully and criminally ignorant, is literally going up in flames as we speak. Its rich millennia-old evolutionary legacy is disappearing before our eyes. The pictures of charred kangaroo corpses entangled in barbed wire fences and koala bears curled up in the fetal position as they tried to flee the fires are gut-wrenching and should be a wake-up call to our leaders. The platypus, another of the country’s iconic creatures, is dying off in drought-stricken cesspools. To make matters worse, recent heavy rains are causing massive fish kills as bushfire ash washes into rivers. More than a billion creatures(excluding frogs, insects, other invertebrates, or livestock) are estimated to have perished, and the wildlife that do manage to survive the country’s apocalyptic conditions are now at risk of starvation. Scientists fear these fires are causing the extinction of entire species of insects which play a vital role in “processing waste, pollination, providing nutrition for other species, and myriad other ecological functions.” While warming at twice the global rate from humanity’s fossil fuel binge, Australia continues to be the biggest net exporter of coal in the world, thus fueling its own conflagration.

The Australian mega-fires are not a one-off, but just the latest manifestation of an increasingly disrupted global climate system. Australia’s fate was predicted by scientists many years ago. The forever legacy of greenhouse gas emissions means the dust won’s settle in any time scale appreciable to humans. Sea levels will continue to rise for millennia, droughts and storms will grow in frequency and intensity, thousand-year rains will become common occurrences, entire ecosystems will unravel, and the human experiment will undoubtedly come to an end. To quote an Australian on Reddit:

This is what disturbs me about my countrymen. This is not just a one-off terrible event, this is a permanent step down, a large nail in our collective coffin. Long before we recover from this, we will suffer it again, and again. Those poor animals. Worse than being glorified, or not televised, our collapse is being looked at without seeing. It is misunderstood and denied.

For those not from here I’d say that one can’t overstate what is happening here, it is truly awful. We will never recover.

Australia’s annual fire season is only at its midpoint, yet the massive pulse of carbon from these bushfires is now estimated at 900 million tons —double the country’s annual emissions. As horrific as the fires have made life on land, what’s happening in Australia’s oceans out of site and mind is equally disturbing, but of course this is not confined to Australia. Scientists have found that a ‘heat blob’ in the north Pacific ocean killed a million seabirds and wiped out 100 million cod.

We are destroying the life support systems to which all creatures, including man, are dependent, yet it does not appear that any climate disaster no matter how catastrophic will alter mankind’s tragic path to extinction. Wiping out an entire continent’s flora and fauna does not register on the Stock Market. No number of five-alarm fire warnings planet Earth sends will be heeded by this cabon-fueled corporate kleptocracy which carries us all toward a very dark future. Why would we expect any differently from an economic paradigm that tolerates no disruption as it plunders the planet in search of the almighty dollar? A report from two years ago called Australia’s extinction crisis a “national disgrace” and described its institutions tasked with protecting threatened plants and animals as “broken”. We see today that nothing has changed to prevent Australia’s natural treasures from disappearing into the black void of the Anthropocene extinction, never to be seen or heard from again. In fact, current assessments show extinction rates are accelerating:

  • Nature is in ‘unprecedented’ decline. A substantial proportion of assessed species are threatened with extinction and overall trends are deteriorating, with extinction rates increasing sharply in the past century.
  • This decline is a direct result of human activity, the most devastating being changes in land and sea use, including natural habitat destruction.
  • Since 1980, greenhouse gas emissions have doubled, raising average global temperatures by at least 0.7 degrees Celsius. 75% of fossil fuel burning and anthropogenic CO2 emissions in the atmosphere has occurred since 1970; their effects are just beginning to be felt.
  • In the near future, climate change is expected to surpass the impacts of land and sea use change as well as other drivers(direct exploitation of organisms, pollution, invasive alien species).
  • Increased human population and per capita consumption is a key driver of the above.
  • By destroying the foundations of Earth’s interconnected web of life, we are threatening our own health and existence.

I am loath to repeat these numbers because no price can be placed on intact ecosystems, but the economic costs of this year’s fire season in Australia are estimated to be approaching $100 billion, the costliest natural disaster in that country’s history. And in the U.S., the last decade has been ‘unprecedented‘:

The U.S. billion-dollar disaster damage costs over the last decade (2010-2019) were also historically large, exceeding $800 billion from 119 separate billion-dollar events. After adjusting for inflation, the U.S. experienced more than twice the number of billion-dollar disasters during the 2010s than the 2000s decade: 119 versus 59…Clearly, the historically large U.S. losses from hurricanes and wildfires over the last few years have further skewed the total distribution of extreme weather costs. This increase reflects a combination of increased exposure, vulnerability and the fact the climate change is playing an increasing role in the frequency of some types of extremes that lead to billion-dollar disasters.

The finance industry is starting to see that climate change is an existential crisis, yet offer no alternative to their ideological stalemate of infinite growth on a finite planet. In fact, they believe that the personal sacrifices needed to halt greenhouse gas emissions will create a public backlash towards such efforts. In other words, business-as-usual will rule the day until the hard laws of physics, chemistry, and biology make our bubble economy impossible. We’re undergoing that process right now as anthropogenic climate disruption returns planet Earth to the chaotic climatic conditions of the Pleistocene —a time in which organized societies and agriculture will be impossible. Water shortages, degraded soils, and loss of pollinators will only compound the problem. No amount of accounting tricks will bring back the habitability of the planet.

Cheap and abundant fossil fuels have given us modern science and technology which have allowed humans to feel detached and independent from nature, but when this civilization inevitably collapses we will once again be at the mercy of the natural world. If we have destroyed the biosphere and set in motion a mass extinction event at a time when we strongly need to rely on nature, then our prospects for survival are very grim indeed! Yet another study released this week shows that Earth’s biodiversity is crashing under a perfect storm of global warming, extreme weather events, and human activity. Collapse of industrial civilization and its vast amount of specialization along with a simultaneous planet-wide ecological collapse can very easily lead to human extinction. It’s not hard to imagine a Third World War being ignited by deteriorating environmental conditions and resource depletion as nations fall under the sway of propaganda from demagogues inciting fear, hatred, and violence.

With Earth Overshoot Day arriving ever earlier each year, we have arrived at the last stage of global civilization’s doubling time. The next twenty years will be the final tick of the clock in which our mass resource extraction, consumption, and waste irreparably damage the planet’s regenerative abilities and life support systems. Decades of greenwashing, empty rhetoric, and regulatory capture by the fossil fuel industry have brought us to this precipice:

As you can see, any mitigation efforts at this late date rely heavily on the fantasy of carbon capture with nonexistent technologies that, truthfully, will never scale up to the enormous problem. To some degree or another, we are all in denial of what is unfolding in our final century as we go about our daily lives within a set of living arrangements completely incompatible to the survival of our descendants. Everyone is riding the peak of industrial civilization as we watch the world fall apart on our smart phones and LED TVs. In the meantime, the nightly news drones on about hyperpartisan politics and economic growth. That barely a vague mention is made in the news cycle of the most important story in mankind’s history tells you all you need to know about who controls mass media and why the story of our imminent demise will remain buried.

Our fossil record will be comprised mainly of plastics, radioactive waste, and billions of human bones and that of our domesticated animals. The remnants of wild animals will be extremely rare since we have supplanted them with our livestock. All civilizations, especially complex ones, eventually collapse. Ours, like many before, will be undone by overshoot of the environment’s carrying capacity, albeit this time on a planetary scale and with no second chance for a do-over.

Greta Thunberg Speaks the Horrific Truth of Humanity’s Fate

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When a 16-year-old girl named Greta Thunberg spoke with trembling anger of the unspeakable crimes today’s adults are committing against her and future generations, a chill ran down my spine. She will be alive to see the pulses of rapid sea level rise, the unraveling of industrial agriculture, the mass migration of hundreds of millions of climate refugees, and the disintegration of Earth’s biosphere. Today’s world with the ever-worsening breakdown of the biosphere is much more dangerous than during the Cold War when the threat of imminent nuclear annihilation hung in the air like the sword of Damocles, as expressed by President Kennedy: “Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness.” Not only does the threat of nuclear war persist, the sword of abrupt climate breakdown now looms ever larger as governments are rendered impotent.

Scientists and the Red Cross recently warned the world is currently suffering at least one climate catastrophe per week and nearly two million people per week are needing humanitarian assistance. A UN global assessment confirms the planet is currently experiencing 2,500 conflicts over fossil fuel, water, food and land — conflicts directly related to the ongoing collapse of the earth’s biodiversity. No civilization in history has faced a complete reshuffling of the planet’s biosphere, let alone the ecological armageddon brought on by a Pandora’s box of pollutants from industrial civilization. Microplastics are literally raining from the sky. Irrevocably out-of-step with the natural world, modern civilization is destroying its host ecosystem by altering the geochemistry of the planet. A mass extinction event unlike any in Earth’s history is underway. Even if a small fraction of the global population survives this overshoot, it will take 10 million years for biodiversity to bounce back. Since atmospheric CO2 will ultimately be drawn down through a very slow natural process called sedimentation, the Earth will not reach pre-industrial CO2 levels again for more than 100,000 years. The last time CO2 levels were this high was 3 millions years ago during the Pliocene when temperatures were 3-4°C(5-7°F) higher globally than today, and sea levels were 15-20 meters(50-65 feet) higher. It was too warm for glacial ice sheets to even exist in the northern hemisphere.

At 412 ppm and rising, experts said temperature rises of 3-4C are likely now locked in.

What does any honest scientist have to say about mankind’s prospects in a 4°C world:

“There is a widespread view that a +4ºC future is incompatible with an organized global community, is likely to be beyond adaptation, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems and has a high probability of not being stable.”
Professor Kevin Anderson, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research (Video, 58:00)

“We have already observed impacts of climate change on agriculture. We have assessed the amount of climate change we can adapt to. There’s a lot we can’t adapt to even at 2C. At 4C the impacts are very high and we cannot adapt to them.”
Rachel Warren, University of East Anglia

“There is a growing sense of panic in those who really understand what a 4°C world might be like.”
Prof. Will Steffan, Director of the Australian National University Climate Change Institute

“Thinking through the implications of 4 degrees of warming shows that the impacts are so significant that the only real adaptation strategy is to avoid that at all cost because of the pain and suffering that is going to cost.”
Prof. Neil Adger, University of Exeter

“…there is also no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible. A 4°C world is likely to be one in which communities, cities and countries would experience severe disruptions, damage, and dislocation, with many of these risks spread unequally. It is likely that the poor will suffer most and the global community could become more fractured, and unequal than today. The projected 4°C warming simply must not be allowed to occur.”
World Bank report (2012) Turn down the heat: why a 4°C warmer world must be avoided

“If we don’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ultimately stabilize CO2 — and we also have to draw down a lot of carbon out of the atmosphere. If we don’t achieve that, there’s no real prospect for a stable society or even a governable society…”
Jason Box, Prof in glaciology at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland 

People are completely oblivious to our dependence on the complex adaptive systems that allow humans to exist and persist. To be clear, when the global temperature rises by 4°C within this century it will be faster than the blink of a geological eye, and we, along with 80% or more of the planet’s species are finished. 96% of all marine species and more than two-thirds of terrestrial species perished during the Great Dying at the Permian-Triassic interface. Global mean temperature at that time rose an estimated 5-8°C over a timespan of 3,000-20,000 years. A 4°C rise over just two centuries will be a rate of warming 15 to 100 times faster than that past extinction event. At this speed of warming, regions would experience temperature spikes of 10-15 degrees above normal in some months. Ecosystems would implode and the services they provide that sustain us would be obliterated. Virtually every vertebrate species on Earth would disappear, along with most plants and many invertebrates.

At just 1°C of warming we are already seeing major ecosystems such as coral reefs unraveling. Hurricanes so powerful that they require a new category now barrel across the Atlantic ocean and completely decimate islands; the cataclysmic Storms of our Grandchildren that Hansen warned about have only just begun. Arctic permafrost melt has already exceeded 2090 projections. It was economist William Nordhaus that set the 2°C warming target in 1975, not scientists. What did he get for this dangerous speculation, divorced from empirics? The Nobel, naturally. These days he is saying 3.5°C is just fine. John Kerry says we cannot leave the climate emergency in the hands of the neanderthals in power, but I dare say that anyone promoting mainstream economic theory is guilty of omnicide. Capitalism’s “extractivism” has turned the entire planet into a sacrifice zone.

Grand Bahama island before/after Hurricane Dorian made landfall, Sept 1, 2019

Humanity has essentially documented its own demise for the last half century while the Keeling curve inexorably rises faster than ever. As MIT Prof Daniel Rothman says, “When carbon levels in the atmosphere spike dramatically, the web of life collapses.” We are now seeing a record 10ppm of CO2 rise every four years and have have failed to curb emissions growth let alone move towards any sort of carbon neutral world. Alternative energies remain a sliver of total global energy consumption. In fact, “the annual increase in global energy use is greater than the increase in renewable energy, meaning fossil fuel use continues to grow.”

The rise of political ‘populism’ and the election of reactionary politicians in the U.S. and abroad has thrown yet another monkey wrench into any possibility of tackling the climate crisis. The demagogic Trump administration is simply burying any scientific evidence and ignoring its government’s own research on such things as the recent surge in climate refugees from Latin America due to climate-induced food insecurity. Russia and Brazil have both encouraged and precipitated the wildfire infernos raging in their countries. The catastrophe unfolding in the Amazon is a direct result of President Bolsonaro’s neoliberal policies designed to plunder the Amazon much like Trump’s dismantling of the EPA and deregulation of corporations. Both ignore the science of climate change and the reality of ecological collapse. In the case of Russia’s Putin, it was a cold economic calculus: “If the cost of putting out these remote fires is greater than the profit that could be made from selling the timber, they can decide to let it burn.”

And then there’s the global debt bomb of $250 trillion waiting to explode, not to mention the $200-250 trillion global carbon debt which increases by 16 trillion every year. Meanwhile, banks are quietly shielding themselves from climate catastrophe at taxpayers’ expense by shifting risky coastal mortgages off their books and onto the federal government’s Fannie and Freddie programs. Just as the U.S. government is leaving vulnerable countries to fend for themselves, so are private institutions unloading the risks onto the public. For those at the very top of our economic pyramid scheme who control public policy, dwindling resources will be kept first and foremost for them while everyone else is treated as collateral damage. This dereliction of responsibility, this cutting and running, is how the deteriorating conditions of the world are being handled. Throughout history, society’s elite have shown the same arrogance and hubris in the face of impending calamity. For example, the Fall of the Roman Empire:

If you read the chronicles of the early 5th century AD, you get the impression of total mayhem, with barbarian armies crisscrossing Europe and few, if any, Roman nobles and commanders trying to defend the Empire. Most of them seemed to be maneuvering to find a safe place where they could find safety for themselves. We don’t know what was the final destiny of Rutilius Namatianus but, since he had the time to finish his poem, we may imagine that he could build himself a castle in Southern France and his descendants may have become feudal lords. But not everyone made it. For instance, Paulinus of Pella, another rich Roman, contemporary of Namatianus, desperately tried to hold on his possessions in Europe, eventually considering himself happy just for having been able of surviving to old age.

We see a pattern here: when the rich Romans saw that things were going really out of control, they scrambled to save themselves while, at the same time, denying that things were so bad as they looked. We can see that clearly in Namatianus’ poem: he never ever hints that Rome was doomed. At most, he says, it was a temporary setback and soon Rome will be great again.

Thunberg’s speech alluded to such behavior by the polluting nations:

For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight. You say you hear us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I do not want to believe that. Because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And that I refuse to believe.

Yes, Greta, they are evil; they have access to every expert on the seriousness of the crisis and they are building walls and saving their own skin while continuing business-as-usual. Lest we forget, the fossil fuel industry’s own scientists accurately predicted the life-threatening effects of its product decades ago and not only did they do nothing to stop it, they funded and orchestrated a vast network of climate denial propaganda which continues to this day and have raced to exploit even more fossil fuels from the melting Arctic. When you consider that billions of people are going to die as a result, their actions become by far the greatest crimes against humanity ever committed. Make no mistake, our society is trading a livable planet for an unsustainable way of life that is irreparably depleting finite resources and altering the earth for eons, making it uninhabitable for organized human societies. Each day of business-as-usual further degrades the planet’s biodiversity.

“As the temperature rises, the patricians will seek refuge as polar migrants, or set sail on heavily armed ocean liners. Millions more will live in underground cities, anywhere to escape the sun. Dazzling reports of new methods for sopping up the gigatons of carbon dioxide will create ripples of enthusiasm and then fade in the next news cycle. Fisheries and agriculture will collapse, drugs will provide little solace, and everyone will curl up in a foetal position in the end, like the ash-entombed victims at Pompeii, whimpering in the inescapable heat. The likelihood of this outcome increases as the years pass and the smoke rises.”
~ Nicholas P. Money, THE SELFISH APE: Human Nature and Our Path to Extinction

Weekend Funnies for the Depressed Collapsitarian #11

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It’s been a while since I’ve published one of these dark humor posts, but I think that as the catastrophic flooding, heat waves, and other extreme weather events continue to multiply and intensify and as more and more people start losing their minds, all we can do is laugh at the absurdity of our self-inflicted predicament. As has been said many times before, the Anthropocene carbon spike is just one of many symptoms from an overpopulated technocapitalist-driven world chasing too few resources, whether it be wild fish, potable water, rare earth minerals, or arable land. No one is putting the breaks on this race towards the abyss because no one is truly in charge, except for the cold and amoral calculator of corporate profits and stock market returns. In an age of “worse than expected” and “faster than anticipated”, the true cost of environmental collapse cannot be fully appreciated because humans have never existed in a world that is 500ppm CO2e and accelerating. One thing is certain —most of Earth’s mass extinctions were caused by a disruption in the carbon cycle which happened slowly over a much longer time span compared to today and without all the other human-forced pressures on the planet. All the technological advances and creature comforts we value today came at a rising environmental cost which is now impossible to repay since we have essentially ‘sold the farm’ in terms of the stability of the Holocene and the biochemistry of the planet. There’s no techno-fixing our way out of this mess. We didn’t build a durable civilization; we built a superficial and fleeting one blinded by delusions of technological grandeur and human superiority. So as we all slowly arrive at the fifth stage of grief, here’s a toast to humans before the party ends

And this cartoon is becoming more accurate as time passes and oil executives mourn for the loss of future profits

Earth will be fine. Humans?…not so much 🤣

No need to plan for retirement, the beach will come to you…

I’m sure Greta Thunberg would have something to say…

Do as I say, not as I do…

And lastly…

A Final Warning to Planet Earth

15,364 scientists from 184 countries issue a ‘warning to humanity’ and present a radical agenda to protect planet Earth. We, the billions of people believing in human exceptionalism, categorically reject this agenda and issue in return a stark warning to planet Earth…We officially summon planet Earth to abandon its intransigent attitude and accept the inevitable: an extension of its biological and physical limits. Should planet Earth stick with its hardline ideological stance, it needs to be aware that mankind will never compromise and that we will seek a second planet. The universe is like our ambition: limitless…

Concerning Humanity’s Future: Interview with Nick Humphrey, Climatologist and Geoscientist

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NOAA image of the “bomb cyclone” that struck the Midwest earlier this month, triggering flooding in three states and taking the lives of humans and livestock. The National Weather Service described it as “incredible” and a “Great Plains cyclone of historic proportions.”

I first discovered the writings of meteorologist/geoscientist Nick Humphrey with his brutally honest essay The Conversation No One Knows How To Have and since then have followed his posts and comments. He has been featured or quoted in a number of publications such as Mother Jones, New York Times, Washington Post, and Science Alert. Few scientists will publicly tell you how dire things are, but Nick Humphrey is not one to shy away from the truth. What follows is a Q&A interview I held with him on a variety of questions concerning humanity’s future.

ML: Can you give us a brief summary of your background and why you became interested in studying the detrimental effects of climate change?

NH: My background is in meteorology, geosciences and interdisciplinary studies. I have a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies from South Dakota State University. I completed a Master of Science in Geosciences with a concentration in Applied Meteorology from Mississippi State University in 2016. My education and research studies have been in the societal impacts of weather/climate, natural hazards, and advanced forecasting techniques. I also have a background in global climatology. I did undergraduate research into human decision-making in response to tornado warnings and graduate research in tropical cyclone impacts.

I have been following news and research into climate change for about the past decade. However, I became more intensive in my personal research as a result of an apparent acceleration in climate impacts in the past 4-5 yrs. My study took me to look into the research of scientists such as Dr. Natalia Shakhova, Dr. James White, Dr. Peter Wadhams, Dr. James Lovelock, and Paul Beckwith. I also looked into the interdisciplinary connections between ecological and environmental variables by Dr. Guy McPherson.

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ML: What is the most disturbing aspect of anthropogenic global warming that you are seeing today and what are its implications for the future?

NH: To me, the most disturbing aspect is the destruction of ice on the planet. It is commonly discussed among climate scientists that the planet has a high “inertia”. This means in natural climate change, there is typically a significant lag between what is happening in the atmosphere (rise in greenhouse emissions) and climate response (warming of the planet), forcing a more gradual temperature rise.

There are two very important components of Earth’s inertia.
1) Water (which can gain/lose a huge amount of heat with a gradual temperature change) and 2) Ice.
Ice, in my view, is the biggest climate regulator because it can do two things:
1) In the process of melting and freezing, heat is latent or “hidden”. Meaning it does not contribute to temperature, but to melting (heat gain) or freezing (heat loss) of ice.
2) Ice is white, so as a result, it is a high reflector of visible light, preventing absorption of heat at the surface. So it has a double impact. As the planet loses ice because of warming temperatures, there is less total ice to melt and more heat goes into warming the oceans, land and atmosphere. It takes nearly 80 times more heat to melt ice than to warm the same amount of liquid water by 1 degree C/1.8 degrees F. The less ice there is, the lower the planetary albedo, resulting in more heat entering the climate system, creating a feedback loop to destroy ice faster and accelerating planetary heating. The loss of sea ice in the Arctic is a planetary catastrophe.

Trends in sea ice thickness are another important indicator of Arctic climate change. While sea ice thickness observations are sparse, here we utilize the ocean and sea ice model, PIOMAS (Zhang and Rothrock, 2003), to visualize mean sea ice thickness from 1979 to 2019. Updated through February 2019. https://sites.uci.edu/zlabe/arctic-sea-ice-volumethickness/

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ML: With the environmental damage that has already been put into the pipeline, modern organized human society may not survive this century and we are already seeing signs of this with the destruction caused by recent extreme weather events. The city of Beira in Mozambique, recently hit by Cyclone Idai, is said to be “the first city to be completely devastated by climate change.” Do you think it’s possible to transition to a net-zero carbon emission civilization within a brief period? Would this not require a radical reconfiguration of every sector of our economy and the way in which we treat each other and the environment?

NH: In short, no, I do not think it is possible to transition to a net-zero carbon emission civilization within a decade. The idea itself is simply absurd because it would require basically returning to a pre-industrial society with none of the benefits which came from building the society provided by fossil fuels. There are some economists and environmentalists who believe you can have “green growth” but such growth leads to further environmental destruction as population and energy demands continue to grow exponentially. In order to go to a net-zero carbon civilization, you must first, ironically, increase carbon usage. More building of solar panels around the world, more building of wind farms, more building of electric cars, more concrete, more metal manufacturing, more highly polluting mining, not only of the land, but more rare Earth metals will be needed from the seas, harming ecosystems and polluting the oceans. Meanwhile, none of this stops climate change because, as you mention, there is already much damage in the pipeline.

At 500 parts per million of equivalent carbon dioxide concentration, enough greenhouse gases are currently in the atmosphere to ultimately warm the planet 4-5 degrees C/7-9 F above 1700s temperatures, raise the sea level by 220 feet/67 meters (assuming 1 ppm CO2 equivalent = 1 ft sea level rise, based on past longer-term paleoclimate change response), remove significant amounts of soil moisture, leading to the destruction of agriculture. And this is without any other carbon releases or feedbacks. Building more in an attempt to maintain civilized society with high energy consumption makes this all worse.

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ML: There are around 454 nuclear reactors around the world with several dozen more currently under construction. At least 100 U.S., European and Asian nuclear power stations are built just a few meters above sea level. With accelerated sea level rise and stronger storms on the horizon, we should be planning right now to decommission and close down these future nuclear disasters. What is your stance on nuclear energy?

NH: Nuclear reactions themselves are an effective way to produce energy. The problem is that, like any form of energy, it requires energy to produce it and leaves waste products. Fossil fuels are needed to build the nuclear reactors (especially all the concrete), water is needed to keep the reactors fuel rods cool, and nuclear waste results from the use of the reactors which must be stored safely for thousands of years. It requires civilization to function for thousands of more years to keep it functional and safe or alternatively decades to properly decommission them. Given sea level rise is accelerating with a doubling of approximately 7-10 years (possibly causing a meter of sea level rise as early as the 2040s-2050s, faster in some regions like the US East Coast), I do not believe we should be building more nuclear reactors and should decommission all others as quickly as possible to save what remains of the natural world from devastating impacts of nuclear failures if civilization collapses and humans are unable to care for those sites.

I make note, it is not only nuclear power stations on coastal areas which are of concern. Stations located along rivers are at risk as well…from increasingly larger floods, drying rivers which are used for cooling, and warming rivers which do not bring in cool enough water to keep the reactors cool. These events are already happening.

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ML: What do you think about geoengineering schemes by scientists to dim the sun in order to reduce global warming and buy humanity more time to “fix” the problem? Proposed technology that could pull CO2 out of the atmosphere at the scale required is generally considered a pipe dream. At what point do you think our civilization will lose faith in technology to solve all our problems?

NH: Geoengineering schemes, to me, are equivalent to using a small band-aid for a large stab wound. It is and will be completely overwhelmed by what is happening. Spraying aerosols over the Arctic to try to cool the Arctic with increased summer cloud formation doesn’t solve the fact that there is 500 ppm of equivalent carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere which cannot be removed with the speed and scale required. You are not dealing with regions where the geoengineering is being done in closed systems. You cool one area, other areas will respond by warming further. You cool one region, atmospheric and ocean circulations will develop and intensify to transport heat to the cooling area to try to equalize the temperature imbalance. Direct ocean heating from below the ice will make it difficult to grow thick ice and not allow ice to reform in the polar night. These heat balances have always existed of course, but it was still cool enough to allow significant ice to exist in the Arctic. The atmosphere is now too altered to allow widespread sea ice to exist in the near future and geoengineering doesn’t prevent this or even delay it in a meaningful way.

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ML: In the recent extreme flooding in the U.S. Midwest, farmers suffered devastating losses with similar food shocks on the rise around the world. How do you see the world feeding itself in such an uncertain future, especially when industrial monoculture is actually increasing worldwide?

NH: In short, I do not see a way for humans to feed themselves in an organized manner. Using the worse-case estimate for warming since pre-industrial times, the planet’s land air and sea surface has averaged around +1.2 C relative to pre-industrial the past 5 years with a peak of +1.4 C in 2016. The Northern Hemisphere land masses (where most of the food on the planet is grown) are quickly approaching +2 C. And we are already seeing the impacts of both extreme heat and extreme precipitation events on crops which depend on stability at mild temperatures and an expected range of moisture. This will only worsen and in between +1.5-2 C, we will conservatively see a reduction of US crop yields by between 30-46% of recent levels. By +4 C, that falls to 63-82% as aridification —droughts which are never-ending— dominate the Great Plains/Midwest and California Central Valley with very extreme summer heat and occasional intense rainfall as well as destructive flood events, exacerbating soil erosion.

We are entering a range of weather conditions not supportive of agriculture. And not simply monoculture. All agriculture. Even other ways of doing Ag require stable weather conditions, seasonality, soils and ability to conduct economic activity between peoples. None of this will be possible in these conditions. And that assumes the ecosystems which support agriculture also remain stable and available and that is not likely given the ongoing global extinction of insects.

NASA before/after imagery of flooding near Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.

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ML: Many mainstream scientists feel that to “work within” the system, they have to use language that politicians and economists can understand in order to maintain credibility, i.e. the “value of ecosystem services”. Attempting to place a monetary value on every aspect of nature while externalizing the environmental cost of pollution is a major flaw of our economic system. Inaction by governments and corporations on climate change may have already condemned a large percentage of the global population to a premature death. Do you think ecocide should be an international crime?

NH: If ecocide were an international crime, we would all be guilty in some way. Obviously, I do not believe all humans are *equal* in terms of blame. A person living in the US is a far far larger consumer of energy with a bigger carbon footprint than a person in say, Kenya or Indonesia. And of course, the developing world receives cheap products (coal, plastics, etc) from the developed world. However, while greenhouse gas pollution is significant from countries such as the US and China, plastic pollution is significant *everywhere*. Mining pollution is significant everywhere. Deforestation either is or has been in the past significant from Canada to Europe, increasing in the Amazon, the continent of Africa, etc. Water is nearing depletion on the Great Plains, parts of Europe, Australia and falling quickly in the Amazon. We’ve required more energy on this planet for all the technologies which many would consider have enhanced human life and existence on this planet…improved infrastructure, medicines, monoculture farming which did allow for much higher and resilient production of crops, etc. But all of those “improvements” to the human condition come at a cost and that cost is the destruction of the natural world, and ultimately ourselves.

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ML: I understand wealthy countries have much larger carbon footprints per capita than the rest of the world due to our unsustainable consumption patterns, but the other much overlooked factor is overpopulation. We are adding roughly 90 million more people onto the planet per year, many of whom are striving to attain a similar western standard of living. Is there any ethical way to control population growth or will nature be the final arbiter? What do you think is the maximum carrying capacity for the Earth’s human population?

NH: Overpopulation is a major problem and factor in the mass extinction ongoing on the planet. However, given the scales required to fix the problem, I do not see a way to fix it which would fix the damage already done to the planet within the timeframes necessary. The only *ethical* means to control overpopulation is to educate a free population (in particular, women must have reproductive freedom) on the benefits to humans by improving the natural world. Laws will fail because it is ultimately an issue of personal physical sovereignty and humans will always fight for personal sovereignty over their bodies as it relates to sex and reproduction vs. govt interference. China’s one-child policy had a lot of unintended consequences. There are other ways to try to “control” but ultimately, what would really be needed is population decline. Given humans are a relatively large land mammal, in order for Earth to have kept ecosystem stability, the human population would have to have stayed in the millions, spread thinly across hospitable regions of the planet as hunter-gatherers. The population of hunter-gatherer/early agricultural humans in the Early Holocene (10-12,000 years ago) is estimated at 1-10 million.

Ultimately, nature appears to be “loading the gun” to make it difficult for the human population to grow much longer; and really, it will crash. The 6th mass extinction is underway and humans will be a part of this given we are at the top of the food web.

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ML: Who, living today, serves as a role model and inspiration for you and in what way? Do you follow any particular philosophy in your life?

NH: I’d say one role model of mine is my father. He died in January 2017 after a battle with cancer. He spurred my interest in science as a child and was one who always strongly emphasized the importance of finding the truth, no matter how difficult it was or the barriers that happened to be in the way. Another is Dr. Albert Einstein, who had many personal flaws, but wanted to use science to improve society and found its uses for killing and destruction of life abhorrent. He spoke the truth even when it marginalized him. Also Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who works hard to communicate complex topics in a way that can be understood and appreciated by the average person.

My only philosophy in life is to live my life to the fullest, given the incredible changes underway, and bring truthful information to people who can see what’s happening and want to know “why?”. I’m an interdisciplinarian and work to bring a more comprehensive understanding of the predicament we face to anyone willing to listen.

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ML: What do you think of the Dark Mountain Project whose members have “stopped believing in the stories our civilization tells itself”? What new stories should we be telling ourselves in this age of ecological catastrophe and extreme economic inequality?

NH: I’m not familiar with the Dark Mountain Project; however to answer the questions, I think we should stop telling stories about how grand our civilization is and celebrating its attempts to dominate Nature and impose fake human superiority. Civilization, which served the purpose of insulating humans from the dangers Nature posed, has destroyed Nature at the expense of its own growth. This was true long before the development of the modern fossil-fueled world. In order to be sedentary and not be dependent upon the local forces of Nature, we needed to build towns and cities. This requires destroying forests, damming rivers, taking over land with agriculture we would control the growth and development of. This means other species, who could not stop us, lost territory. Each improvement in protecting ourselves from Nature meant more population growth, more resource needs, more energy, which in turn meant more destruction and more attempts at control. Humanity, as a hunter-gatherer species, meant our growth was dependent upon what we could find for food and water within the bounds of the climate. Our ability to enclose and mass manipulate our environment and resources meant we could grow beyond our resources and, in the process, mass pollute the world. Civilization has been an 8,000 year attempt to win a war against Nature. A war we are losing because Nature —following the laws which have governed the Universe for 14 billion years— always wins.

Nature is in control, not humans. Even our current catastrophes which were sparked by humanity’s activities were ultimately governed by the laws of Nature (physics, thermodynamics, chemistry, etc). We never were separate from it all, but a part of it. We should be telling ourselves to do what we feel is right to respect Nature and its unbreakable laws, accepting our place in the Universe as just one of many species which have a finite existence on this planet.

Nick Humphrey’s blog can be found here: https://www.patreon.com/MeteorologistNickHumphrey

The Inconvenient Truth of Modern Civilization’s Inevitable Collapse

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“My early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves.”
David Buckel

Today’s global consumption of fossil fuels now stands at roughly five times what it was in the 1950s, and one-and-half times that of the 1980s when the science of global warming had already been confirmed and accepted by governments with the implication that there was an urgent need to act. Tomes of scientific studies have been logged in the last several decades documenting the deteriorating biospheric health, yet nothing substantive has been done to curtail it. More CO2 has been emitted since the inception of the UN Climate Change Convention in 1992 than in all previous human history. CO2 emissions are 55% higher today than in 1990. Despite 20 international conferences on fossil fuel use reduction and an international treaty that entered into force in 1994, manmade greenhouse gases have risen inexorably. If it has not dawned on you by now, our economic and political systems are ill-equipped to deal with this existential threat. Existing international agreements are toothless because they have no verification or enforcement and do not require anything remotely close to what is needed to avoid catastrophe. The 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years, with the top four in the past four years, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Ice loss from Antarctica has sextupled since the 1970s and Greenland’s pace of ice loss has increased fourfold since 2003. The Arctic ocean has lost 95% of its old ice and total volume of ice in September, the lowest ice month of the year, has declined by 78% between 1979 and 2012. With grim implications for the future, Earth’s air conditioner —the cryosphere— is melting away.

An article from a few months ago lays bare the reality that throughout the past two hundred years and with recent “alternative” or “renewable” energy sources, humans have only added to the total energy they consume without ever having displaced the old, polluting ones. An alternative energy outlook report by Wood Mackenzie foresees that even in a carbon-constrained future, fossil fuels would still make up 77% of global energy consumption in 2040. The world economy remains hopelessly tethered to fossil fuels. We are kidding ourselves if we think there will be any sort of orderly transition to sustainability with which modern civilization appears to be wholly incompatible. We are, as Nate Hagens says, energy blind.

Modern civilization has become so intertwined with petroleum-based products that their remnants are now found in our excrement. It seems no living thing can escape microplastics, not even the eggs of remote Arctic birds. This should come as no surprise if you look at the scale of the problem. Plastic production has grown from 2 million metric tons in 1950 to roughly 400 million metric tons today(more than 99% of plastics made today are with fossil fuels and only a tiny fraction of it recycled). There are five massive oceanic gyres filled with pelagic plastics, chemical sludge and other human detritus; one of the these gyres, named the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is three times the size of France and growing exponentially. The health and environmental effects are grim; organized society may not even be around to examine the long-term effects of these persistent synthetic materials:

“Health problems associated with plastics throughout the lifecycle includes numerous forms of cancers, diabetes, several organ malfunctions, impact on eyes, skin and other sensory organs, birth defects” and many other impacts, said David Azoulay, a report author and managing attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law…”And those are only the human health costs, they do not mention impacts on climate, impacts on fisheries or farmland productivity.”

Making things more efficient and convenient has its limits, but humans keep trying to beat the consequences of Earth’s dwindling natural resources while ignoring the environmental costs. Jevons paradox be damned! To make matters worse, the fossil fuel industry has employed a well-financed and highly effective global disinformation campaign to confuse and sow doubt in the public mind about the reality of climate change. And to top it all off, we have a leader who reinforces the ignorance of climate change deniers:

It’s a cruel irony that this President’s emergency declaration for building a border wall comes at a time when migration from Latin America is near a 40-year low and the majority of those now seeking asylum are families fleeing climate change-related disasters. This President and the craven politicians who line up behind him are an abomination! At a time when compassion, cooperation, and scientific reasoning are needed to deal with the multiple crises we face, politicians are instead conjuring up xenophobia, racism, and conspiracy theories. As inequality grows and the once-stable climate continues to unravel, expect the super-rich to barricade themselves behind heavily fortified mansions while treating climate refugees and the most vulnerable among us with extreme prejudice. A new study shows increasingly severe weather events are fueling the number of ‘food shocks’ around the world and jeopardizing global security:

These “food shocks” —or, sudden losses to food production— are hitting local communities hard, in addition to impacting the global economy, with long-term implications. “Critically, shock frequency has increased through time on land and sea at a global scale,” the study notes. “Geopolitical and extreme-weather events were the main shock drivers identified, but with considerable differences across sectors.”

Douglas Theobald, in his study at Brandeis University, calculated that there is less than a 1 in 102,860 chance that all life did not arise from a common ancestor. In other words, humans are related to all life on Earth and share much of their DNA with other organisms. Despite earning the title of ‘superpredator‘, humans are dependent on intact and functioning ecosystems. Our chances for long-term survival are ultimately tied to the health of the planet, yet we are carrying out ecocide on a planetary scale. Being a mere 0.01% of all life on Earth, humans have managed to destroy 50% of wild animals in just the last fifty years and 83% since the dawn of civilization around 3,000 B.C.. Who knows how many plant species have gone extinct:

Hawaii is losing plant species at the rate of one per year, when it should be roughly one every 10,000 years. “We have a term called ‘plant-blindness’… People simply don’t see them; they view greenery as an indistinguishable mass, rather than as thousands of genetically separate and fragile individuals…”

The bedrock of our food, clean water and energy is biodiversity, but its loss now rivals the impacts of climate change. Without biodiversity, our food sources, both plants and animals, will succumb to diseases. Microbes and hundreds of different life forms interact to make soils fertile. Without them, soils will be barren and unable to support life. Monocultures can only be held together through artificial means(fossil fuels, inorganic fertilizer and toxic pesticides) and are highly vulnerable to diseases, yet industrial monoculture farming continues to dominate the globe. Most Worrisome are the recent studies indicating that biodiversity loss raises the risk of ‘extinction cascades’. Insect numbers, the base of the terrestrial food chain, are in steep decline and starfish, a common keystone species in coastal ecosystems, are facing extinction due to some sort of wasting disease likely caused by climate change:

“Many of these outbreaks are heat sensitive. In the lab, sea stars got sick sooner and died faster in warmer water… A warming ocean could increase the impact of infectious diseases like this one…We could be watching the extinction of what was a common species just 5 years ago.”

And here is Professor Stephen Williams discussing the recent mass death of Australia’s flying fox bats in which 30,000 —a third of their remaining population— died in a single extreme heat wave:

“A lot of tropical species are much closer to the edge of the tolerances, so they very much are the ‘canary in the coalmine’ for the world in what’s going to start happening with climate change…The fact that we’re now seeing things endangered occur in places that you would’ve thought to be pretty secure, that’s the scary bit…I suspect the next wave of extinctions is going to be mostly due to extreme events — extreme climate events like heatwaves.”

These disturbing headlines indicate to me that the Sixth Mass Extinction is gathering pace and the real stock market underlying our very existence and survival is crashing before our eyes!!! Four of the last five mass extinction events were preceded by a disruption of the carbon cycle. When renowned paleoclimatologist Lee Kump was asked whether comparisons to today’s global warming and that of past mass extinctions are really appropriate, he ominously said, “Well, the rate at which we’re injecting CO2 into the atmosphere today, according to our best estimates, is ten times faster than it was during the End-Permian. And rates matter. So today we’re creating a very difficult environment for life to adapt, and we’re imposing that change maybe ten times faster than the worst events in Earth’s history.” Humans are recreating the past extinction known as The Great Dying at a much faster pace and at many more human-forced levels that leave no ecosystem on Earth intact.

By orders of magnitude, the human endeavor has grown much too large for the Earth to support; climate change, plastic pollution, and biodiversity loss are just a few of the symptoms of this global ecological overshoot. The people who have studied this problem for years and from every angle have come to the same conclusion —technology simply won’t save us, but that won’t stop humans from experimenting. By far the most effective way to reduce future emissions and resource consumption is to reduce human birth rates, yet the global population is still increasing at about 90 million people per year despite the geographic shift in fertility rates.

Humans recognized decades ago the threats they are now facing, yet nothing was done due to political inaction and industry malfeasance which continues to this very day. The scientists who wrote The Limits to Growth decades ago were expecting our political institutions to take action back in the 1970s, but they were met with ridicule and now we stand at the doorstep of modern civilization’s collapse. Political inaction and regulatory capture by the fossil fuel industry appear to be intractable barriers that have condemned the human race to a hellish future. Anyone waiting for some sort of seminal climate change event that is going to galvanize the world’s leaders into action will be tragically disappointed. If seeing the world’s coral reefs dying, its glaciers disappearing, permafrost melting, and the steady uptick in extreme weather and wildfire events does not spur them to action, it is much too late to hope that any single event will ever do so. The time to act would have been before we were seeing all these environmental degradations and tipping points, not afterward. There is no way to put the CO2 genie back in the bottle. The Earth cannot even begin to reach a new climate state until humans stop emitting the roughly 40 to 50 gigatonnes of CO2 per annum and stop altering and destroying global ecosystems. This fact is our daily nightmare.

A myth that many uninformed people hold is that biospheric health will quickly bounce back after we humans get our act together. Nothing could be further from the truth. Much of the damage we are already seeing is irreversible on human time scales. Positive feedbacks were already occurring at less than 1°C of warming. Many carbon sinks are on the verge of becoming or have already become carbon sources. As we race toward a nightmarish future with no realistic way to stop, we leave behind a “forever legacy” that will haunt mankind for the rest of eternity.