Addiction to Fossil Fuels, Antarctic Ice Melt, Arctic Ice Melt, Climate Change, Climate Tipping Points, Collapse of Industrial Civilization, Corporate State, Ecological Overshoot, Economic Collapse, Environmental Collapse, Extinction of Man, Guy McPherson at the 'Age of Limits' Conference, Inverted Totalitarianism, James Hansen, Mass Die Off, Nature Bats Last, Overpopulation, Peak Oil, Peak Water, Runaway Climate Change, The Nemesis Effect, Tim Garrett
I have yet to meet Guy McPherson, but with a blog entitled “Collapse of Industrial Civilization”, it appears inevitable. Who else on Earth has such an unvarnished view of the horror show modern man is orchestrating? Truth delivered up with no hidden agendas is a very bitter and difficult pill to swallow, but being a true radical means getting at the root of the problem irrespective of “ideological and/or theological prejudice“, or as Guy says…
For those wanting to keep abreast of the deteriorating habitability of the planet, Guy posts periodic updates to the unfolding climate chaos here.
There exists no high quality recording of Guy’s speech at the most recent “Age of Limits” conference that I know of. In order to review his talk I watched this clip and studied his powerpoint slides which he sent me and which are posted here.
I’m certain that many who attend Guy’s speeches don’t internalize all the information he sets forth, fore if they did, their language would lose all the culturally ingrained phrases of hope for any kind of eleventh hour rescue by our technology-worshipping society. If there were a fix, don’t you think we would have implemented it by now before setting off a list of unstoppable positive feedback loops, known and unknown? Hell, even the much-trumpeted cleanliness of natural gas has turned out to be a farce. A recent study shows methane release from natural gas production is much higher than was known.
We seem to be leaking greenhouse gases from every orifice. Yes Moore’s law and the illusion of infinite progress have brainwashed everyone into believing mankind is immortal, forever in control of primal earth forces. In 2000, Chris Bright of the Worldwatch Institute introduced the term “nemesis effect” which refers to the cumulative effect of multiple stressors and conditions that lead to unanticipated consequences. Taken as a whole, the information in Guy’s speech equates to a global nemesis effect which is taking the planetary biosphere past the threshold of human habitability.
After stating the “benefits to the biosphere” from the collapse of industrial civilization, he presented a brief history of climate science’s implication of man as the primary culprit of climate change:
Benefits to the Biosphere from the Collapse of Industrial Civilization
– will slow down climate chaos, but too late to stop it.
– will terminate human population overshoot which is proceeding currently at the rate of 217,000 per day (births minus deaths every single day).
– will slow or stop the 6th Great Extinction proceeding at a pace of roughly 217 species per day (conservative estimate).
– will terminate environmental decay such as the soil we wash away into the oceans, the air we foul, the water we pollute, and all the other consequences of industrial civilization.
Brief History of Climate Change Science and the Pinpointing of Human-Induced Climate Change
In 1896, Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius, considered the father of climate change science, predicted a 1 degree Celsius rise by the year 2,000. Few quote him today because he thought that a slight warming of the atmosphere would be a good thing for human agriculture. In the end, no such benefits will result from human-induced climate change due to the extreme weather swings and our oil-dependent agricultural system…
Last year, James Hansen (et al), pointed out that extreme weather events of all kinds (hot, cold, wet and dry) are becoming more frequent. In fact, their statistical analysis of historical data (as opposed to computer modelling of future events) demonstrated that extreme events (i.e. more than 3 standard deviation above or below average) are now ten times more likely than they used to be…
Our Oil-Dependent Agricultural System Spews CO2
Over the past 40 years, about 2 billion hectares of soil – equivalent to 15% of the Earth’s land area (an area larger than the United States and Mexico combined) – have been degraded through human activities, and about 30% of the world’s cropland have become unproductive. But it takes on average a whole century just to generate a single millimetre of topsoil lost to erosion.
Soil is therefore, effectively, a non-renewable but rapidly depleting resource.
We are running out of time. Within just 12 years, the report says, conservative estimates suggest that high water stress will afflict all the main food basket regions in North and South America, west and east Africa, central Europe and Russia, as well as the Middle East, south and south-east Asia.
Past Predictions of Mass Extinction and Human Die-Off
Despite the rantings of wingnuts like Alex Jones, free-market ideologues, and conspiracy theorists, the following warning given in 1986 by Robert Watson, who was the director of NASA’s upper atmospheric program at that time, remains prescient…
A dramatic loss of ozone over antarctica proves the “greenhouse effect” is real and presages a gradual warming of the Earth that threatens floods, drought, human misery in a few decades and – if not checked – eventual extinction of the human species, scientists warned Tuesday…
James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, warned Wednesday that human-made climate change could lead to the deaths of millions of species.
“If we continue with business as usual this century, we will drive to extinction 20 to 50 percent of the species on the planet,” he told Current TV host Eliot Spitzer. “We are pushing the system an order of magnitude faster than any natural changes of climate in the past.”
In a recently published study, Hansen and his team concluded that the drastic increase in record high temperatures in recent years could be directly traced to human-made climate change, particularly the increase in greenhouse gases…
Large-Scale Climate Assessment Projects
Guy then goes into some large-scale climate assessment studies which do not include data for:
(a) Positive Feedbacks (tipping points)
(b) Economic Collapse
Back in 1990, the U.N. Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases warned:
Beyond 1 degree C may elicit rapid, unpredictable and non-linear responses that could lead to extensive ecosystem damage.
Our Dying Oceans and Back to the Future with Mass Extinctions
CO2 levels are now at 400ppm which does not account for methane and other greenhouse gases accumulating from human activity. CO2 has never exceeded 280 ppm in the last million years (based on actual readings of atmospheric chemistry from Antarctic ice-core data.) The last time greenhouse gases were at 400 ppm was three million years ago — a time when no humans existed. Humans have managed to radically alter the chemistry of the atmosphere to such a degree as to replicate pre-historic levels when no humans walked the Earth.
Phytoplankton has plummeted in the last century due to ocean warming and acidification:
A 2012 Science study found that the pace of ocean acidification today is ten times faster than during the PETM – the most rapid acidification event in the geologic record. Looking as far back as 300 million years, the study found that at current trends the projected rate of acidification of the world’s oceans will be the worst ever – worse than all the major extinctions of this time span: the end-Cretaceous, the end-Triassic, and even the end-Permian 250 million years ago, when 96% of marine species went extinct.
The current rate of (mainly fossil fuel) CO2 release stands out as capable of driving a combination and magnitude of ocean geochemical changes potentially unparalleled in at least the last ~300 million years of Earth history, raising the possibility that we are entering an unknown territory of marine ecosystem change.
Considering the projections of increasing temperatures from the numerous large-scale assessments listed above, we can logically predict that the remaining phytoplankton, the base of the food chain, will suffer catastrophically.
Can CO2 Emissions and Economic Growth Be Decoupled?
Even with the economic meltdown of 2008, carbon emissions only slowed temporarily, quickly rebounding in 2010.
What this implies is that only a complete collapse will prevent runaway climate change. Others seem to agree. A censored 2012 study [original paper here] by University of Utah professor Tim Garrett explains that energy efficiency gains actually accelerate global energy consumption and CO2 emission rates and that only collapse can stop this process:
…Taking [a] global perspective with respect to the economy, the implication is that efficiency gains will do the exact opposite of what most claim it will do. If technological changes allow global energy productivity or energy efficiency to increase, then civilization grows faster into the resources that sustain it. The consequence is that energy consumption and CO2 emissions accelerate.
CO2 emissions can be stabilized despite efficiency gains. But this is possible only if decarbonization occurs as quickly as energy consumption grows. At today’s consumption growth rates, this would require roughly one new nuclear power plant, or equivalent, to be deployed each day. Barring this, since wealth and energy consumption rates are linked, it can only be through an economic collapse that CO2 emissions rates will decline. If the size of civilization enters a long and profound decline then wealth, energy consumption and CO2 emissions will all decrease at roughly the same rate. If the collapse is sufficiently rapid then it may be possible to maintain atmospheric CO2 concentrations below levels that are normally considered dangerous.
Perhaps there is a way out of this admittedly grim sounding double-bind. But Jevons’ Paradox tells us that it will not be by way of increasing energy efficiency. Quite the opposite…
From an interview with Garrett:
Although it “feels good to conserve energy,” he said, “there shouldn’t be any pretense that it will make a difference.”
These views, both radical and controversial, will be published this week in Climate Change, an online academic journal edited by renowned Stanford University climate scientist Stephen Schneider. Other research journals declined to publish Garrett’s research.
Garrett believes current options to potentially avert climate change — increased energy efficiencies, reduced population growth and a switch to power sources that don’t emit carbon dioxide, as well as underground storage of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning — are “not meaningful.”
“Fundamentally, I believe the system is deterministic,” Garrett said. “Changes in population and standard of living are only a function of the current energy efficiency. That leaves only switching to a non-carbon-dioxide-emitting power source as an available option.” Some economists are critical of his approach, but his solution is targeted to solve economic issues as “physics problems,” looking at civilization as one big problem instead of calculating individual problems based on population growth, increasing energy efficiency and other things.
“I end up with a global economic growth model different than they have,” he said. Garrett treats civilization as a “heat engine” that “consumes energy and does ‘work’ in the form of economic production, which then spurs it to consume more energy,” he said.
Ominous Signs of Disturbing a Fragile Planet
Following in the footsteps of Henry David Thoreau’s 1851 observations of flowering plants, Richard Primack, a professor of biology at Boston University, and his then-graduate student, Abe Miller-Rushing, observed the habits of the same species and found drastic changes:
…An analysis of Thoreau’s observations, those of another 19th-century naturalist and their own modern records indicate the first flowering date for 43 of the most common species has moved up by an average of 10 days. What’s more, species that aren’t shifting their flowering times in response to warmer springs are disappearing…
Recently, researchers at Penn State reconfigured the habitability zones for planets and Earth was calculated to be much further to the edge of what is called the ‘Goldilocks Zone’. The Goldilocks Zone is defined as…
…a narrow belt around a star where an orbiting planet would be warm enough to support life, but cool enough that life wouldn’t just go around bursting into flames all the time, a factor that can significantly delay evolutionary development. The term was introduced nearly two decades ago, and hasn’t been substantively updated since then.
Guy said that this suggests “relatively minor changes in the chemistry of the planet will produce significant impacts that might take us out of the habitable zone for humans.”
Back in 2010, researchers calculated the maximum wet-bulb temperatures reached in a high carbon dioxide emissions future climate scenario:
Reasonable worst-case scenarios for global warming could lead to deadly temperatures for humans in coming centuries, according to research findings from Purdue University and the University of New South Wales, Australia.
Researchers for the first time have calculated the highest tolerable “wet-bulb” temperature and found that this temperature could be exceeded for the first time in human history in future climate scenarios if greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate…
…”Whole countries would intermittently be subject to severe heat stress requiring large-scale adaptation efforts,” Huber said. “One can imagine that such efforts, for example the wider adoption of air conditioning, would cause the power requirements to soar, and the affordability of such approaches is in question for much of the Third World that would bear the brunt of these impacts. In addition, the livestock on which we rely would still be exposed, and it would make any form of outside work hazardous.”…
…”We found that a warming of 12 degrees Fahrenheit would cause some areas of the world to surpass the wet-bulb temperature limit, and a 21-degree warming would put half of the world’s population in an uninhabitable environment,” Huber said….
Since 1998, global surface air temperatures have flattened despite continued increases in greenhouse gases. Climate change deniers have used this as proof that there is no human-induced climate change happening. Where is all the heat going? Into the deep oceans…
…If extra heat is temporarily stored elsewhere thanks to natural climate variations, we won’t necessarily notice it.
But sooner or later it will inevitably emerge, which means that the current slowdown in warming may well be balanced by a period of rapid warming in a few years — nobody knows how many — from now. Scientists have always said that global warming would proceed in fits and starts, not in a smooth upward trend in temperatures…”
Another factor (global dimming or the aerosol effect from Asian industrialization) causing the dampening of current surface air temperatures in the last 15 years was mentioned in a previous post by David Wasdell:
…The effects of global dimming have been enhanced during this period [Asian Industrialization] by the mixing of more surface heat down to deeper ocean water, by the dominance of La Nina (cooler) conditions in the Pacific, and by a prolonged period of minimal solar radiation. The absence of temperature increase has also blocked all amplification from the temperature-dependent feedback mechanisms…
Unstoppable Feedback Loops
The following list of positive feedbacks are identified by Guy (with one added by me) as irreversible, although the last one appears to be hampered by the increasingly treacherous conditions that the resource extraction corporations are faced with as they try to set up shot in the melting and warming Arctic. I have added links to articles and essays, a few of which are very recent and add new information about these feedback loops (increased CO2 from hidden fires in the Amazon, boreal forest migration, and loss of top predators)
Standing on the Beach of Doom and waiting at the Last Chance Saloon for the waves to come in…Brace for Impact.
Irreversible Positive Feedback
1.) Methane hydrates are bubbling out the Arctic Ocean (Science, March 2010)
2.) Warm Atlantic water is defrosting the Arctic as it shoots through the Fram Strait (Science, January 2011)
3.) Siberian methane vents have increased in size from less than a meter across in the summer of 2010 to about a kilometer across in 2011 (Tellus, February 2011)
4.) Drought in the Amazon triggered the release of more carbon than the United States in 2010 (Science, February 2011)
Using an innovative satellite technique, NASA scientists have determined that a previously unmapped type of wildfire in the Amazon rainforest is responsible for destroying several times more forest than has been lost through deforestation in recent years…
…In years with the most understory fire activity, such as 2005, 2007 and 2010, the area of forest affected by understory fires was several times greater than the area of deforestation for expansion of agriculture, according to Morton. The study goes further and fingers climate conditions – not deforestation – as the most important factor in determining fire risk in the Amazon at a regional scale…
…The new knowledge about the scope of understory fires could have implications for estimates of carbon emissions from disturbed forests. How experts account for those emissions depends on the fate of the forest – how it is disturbed and how it recovers.
“We don’t yet have a robust estimate of what the net carbon emissions are from understory fires, but widespread damages suggest that they are important source of emissions that we need to consider,” Morton said…
5.) Peat in the world’s boreal forests is decomposing at an astonishing rate (Nature Communications, November 2011)
…The planet’s boreal forests won’t expand poleward. Instead, they’ll shift poleward. The difference lies in the prediction that as boreal ecosystems follow the warming climate northward, their southern boundaries will be overtaken by even warmer and drier climates better suited for grassland.
And that’s a key difference. Grassland stores a lot of carbon in its soil, but it accumulates at a much slower rate than is lost from diminishing forests…
7.) Russian forest and bog fires are growing (NASA, August 2012)
8.) Cracking of glaciers accelerates in the presence of increased carbon dioxide (Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics, October 2012)
10.) Exposure to sunlight increases bacterial conversion of exposed soil carbon, thus accelerating thawing of the permafrost (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, February 2013)
11.) Summer ice melt in Antarctica — highest level in 1,000 years and the most rapid melting has occurred in the last 50 years (Nature Geoscience, April 2013)
I would add one more here…
People play a big role in predator decline and our study shows that this has significant, global implications for climate change and greenhouse gases,” says Atwood.
“We knew that predators shaped ecosystems by affecting the abundance of other plants and animals but now we know that their impact extends all the way down to the biogeochemical level.
Reversible Positive Feedback?
13.) Arctic drilling was fast-tracked by the Obama administration during the summer of 2012