6th Mass Extinction, Alternative Energy, Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, Authoritarianism, Big Oil Propaganda, Capitalism, Carbon Sequestration, Climate Chaos, Collapse of Industrial Civilization, Corporate Trade Agreements, Cryosphere, Ecocide, Ecological Collapse, Ecological Overshoot, Energy Bail-Outs, Eric Zencey, Exxon's Climate Cover-Up, Fascism, Financialization of the Economy, Geoengineering, Jeb Bush, Johan Rockstrom, Keeling Curve, Mass Die Off, Michael Mann, Oil Price Crash, Overly Conservative IPCC Estimates, Overpopulation, Peak Fish, Peak Oil, Philanthrocapitalism, Planetary Boundaries, Planetary Tipping Points, Plasticizing the Planet, Techno-Fix, Techno-Optimists, The Age of Oil, The Global Elite, Zika Virus
As China’s appetite for resources wanes with the bursting of its real estate bubble and America’s shale oil boom fueled by easy credit comes to an end, floundering petrostates are beginning to queue up for bail-outs. Financialization appears to have exacerbated the collapse in oil prices. Of course none of this capitalist boom-bust cycle negates the fundamentals of peak oil; prices will swing upwards again in a few years as marginal producers get weeded out. After all, the world still consumes nearly three million gallons of oil per minute, and only a relatively thin margin separates surplus from a shortage. Most of our energy usage does not involve electricity which is what alternative energies like wind and solar produce. Electricity comprises just 18% of the total global energy consumption of which alternatives make up a tiny sliver. 250 new human beings are added to the planet every minute; each born into a world of depleting resources and mounting pollution; each scrambling to secure the necessities of life. The black stuff will remain the primary fuel supporting this growing population of a globalized technological civilization.
A recent study estimates that if we are serious about implementing alternative energies to satisfy the goals of the Paris climate accord, then upwards of 12 trillion dollars will have to be spent over the next 25 years. This price tag is an investment that is 75% more than current growth projections. At a time when governments have spent their last ammo pumping more electronic money into the economy to try to stimulate economic growth, the prospects of decarbonizing the entire global energy system appears daunting, especially considering the many shortcomings of alternative energies. Time constraints on a planet indifferent to our energy needs are also bearing down on us:
As the Keeling curve creeps irreversibly higher and the gap between rhetoric and reality widens, pipe dreams like geoengineering and carbon sequestration will become desperate Hail Marys for a species whose time is running out. The New York Times editorial by Piers Sellers, a NASA Earth Sciences director who has terminal cancer, perfectly sums up this techno-fix mindset: “…it will be up to the engineers and industrialists of the world to save us.” Keep calm, keep shopping, and await further instructions; the elites have it all under control. Jeb Bush’s recent comment that we should pin our hopes on “someone in a garage” fixing climate change illustrates the widespread delusion that technological innovation, good ol’ entrepreneurial spirit, and capitalist market-based solutions will be our saviours. Ironically, Jeb belongs to the political party hell-bent on defunding public education, a policy that would seem to make those plucky garage inventors even more implausible.
We cannot possibly rely on a system that profits from the very disaster it has helped to create, yet that is the dead-end feedback loop we are locked into. Mexico is a good example of how landscapes and communities are being carved up for alternative energy farms and carbon trading schemes that benefit only large corporations. Even philanthrocapitalism promotes the convenient myth that market forces and the whims of billionaires will solve systemic problems. The precautionary principle has been thrown out the window in the pursuit of short-term profits and power. We have only a vague inkling of nature’s rich complexity and interdependence. The scale of our ignorance is frightening considering our oversized impact.
The truth of our predicament has been criminally concealed since the 1970s by the fossil fuel industry which all the while knew that an overheated Arctic would melt away, exposing fresh deposits of carbon for them to exploit. Unfortunately the bonanza they planned for has not materialized; melting permafrost wreaks havoc on infrastructure and exploration. The cryospheric regions of earth, key geographic features regulating the planet’s climate, were systematically dismantled within the geologic blink of an eye; such environmental changes are imperceptible to the real-time cognitive processing of humans, but in geological ‘deep time’ these events are cataclysmic and portend a dire future for humans. There are more signs that the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) is slowing down.
“We’re sitting on these planetary boundaries right now, argues Rockstrom, and if these systems flip from one stable state to another — if the Amazon tips into a savannah, if the Arctic loses its ice cover and instead of reflecting the sun’s rays starts absorbing them in water, if the glaciers all melt and cannot feed the rivers — nature will be fine, but we will not be.” ~ Johan Rockstrom, director of the Stockholm Resilience Center
The time to avoid critical tipping points in those decades has passed. The projections from the IPCC were downplayed and underestimated in order to continue the destructive business-as-usual:
“…new scientific findings were more than twenty times as likely to support the ASC perspective [that disruption through AGW may be far worse than the IPCC has suggested] than the usual framing of the issue in the U.S. mass media. The findings indicate that…if reporters wish to discuss ‘‘both sides’’ of the climate issue, the scientifically legitimate ‘‘other side’’ is that, if anything, global climate disruption may prove to be significantly worse than has been suggested in scientific consensus estimates to date”.
We’re in the early throes of economic and ecological system failure; headlines grow more alarming each year:
Plastic is projected to outweigh fish in the world’s oceans by 2050. This may happen much sooner since it was just discovered the number of fish remaining in the ocean has been grossly overestimated. We only recycle 5-10% of plastics today and many are not recyclable. It’s cheaper for industry not to recycle and the quality of plastic is degraded when it is recycled. No international body exists that can hope to regulate dumping in the oceans. International ships dump freely without consequence. Unenforceable legislation is heroically passed in bodies of government from time to time, but it remains ineffective. Waste is also shipped across borders to more “business friendly” countries where waste can be cost-effectively dumped.
The warming Indian Ocean is becoming an ecological desert. According to new research, rising water temperatures over the last half century appear to have reduced phytoplankton numbers, threatening to cascade through the food chain and crash the ecosystem. Climate change has been implicated in a rash of recent animal die-offs across the planet. The changes are too abrupt for animals to adapt. Today’s build-up of atmospheric CO2 and other heat-trapping gases is much, much faster than past hyperthermal events. In fact, scientists now fear climate change is happening faster than it has in all of Earth’s history.
Hot days are occurring 145 times more often over the last 10 years than just a few decades ago. Unique World Heritage Sites are being destroyed by climate change. The latest one, an ancient Gondwana ecosystem in Tazmania, burned down to the ground from fires sparked by dry lightning strikes, a direct result of climate change. A warming planet is also providing a growing range of favorable places for mosquitoes, the bane of mankind, to spread pestilence and disease. Our interconnected world can fast-track their dissemination with the help of a single intercontinental plane flight. At the moment, the Zika virus is grabbing headlines with its explosive expansion. Scientists are on the verge of confirming that it has jumped to the common mosquito and the WHO recently declared it an international health emergency. Microcephaly appears to be just the tip of the iceberg for the fallout of this virus. Normal-appearing newborns are suffering ill effects as well. It is believed that the Zika virus was introduced into Brazil during the World Soccer Cup in 2014 when an influx of tourists visited cities throughout Brazil. The 2016 Olympics in Rio will provide a perfect vehicle for the worldwide distribution of Zika.
The refugees fleeing from the war-torn Middle East are only a foreshadowing of the mass exodus to come from regions racked by climate chaos. With ethnic, religious, racial and ideological tensions simmering, we can already see the welcome mats being pulled up in host countries. Recent studies have shown a loss of freedoms for citizens and rise in authoritarian governments around the world over the last decade; this trend tracks with our net energy descent, deregulation, rollback of environmental protection, and pursuit of corporate trade agreements. It also follows historic patterns:
“…history tells us that civilizations experiencing dramatic declines in their net energy uptake usually develop authoritarian political systems in an effort to stave off collapse, but then crash and disappear anyway.” ~Eric Zencey
Historically speaking, the elite are last to feel the effects of their hubristic decision-making, insulated as they are in their positions of wealth and power. Modern ideals and virtues of human rights, social justice, and a strong American middle class have all been aberrations of a civilization built atop a surfeit of energy.
The disparity between MSM news and real world problems like climate change, pollution, growing wealth inequality, the unraveling food chain, etc. are breathtaking. Wrecking the biosphere and bringing on a mass extinction leaves no one unscathed or in any position to survive long-term. Secret plans of survival by the “elite” are simply another myth. The wealthy may be buying up tracts of land in remote areas, but they are perhaps more delusional than anyone else because of how their wealth insulates them from hard realities. Without all those just-in-time supply chains operating seamlessly across a stable planet, no one gets out alive.