Off the keyboard of RE
Published on the Doomstead Diner on July 26, 2015
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Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
- Sea Level Rise
- Atmospheric Carbon Content
- Monetary System Collapse
- Geopolitical Conflict/War
- Fossil Fuel Energy Depletion
- Human Population Overshoot
- Loss of Liberty/Police State
- Nuclear Power Plants/Spent Fuel
- Food Production
- Population Migrations/Refugees
The Big Climate Newz of the week was that James Hansen, considered by many to be the #1 Climate Scientist in the world released his latest report on the crappy state of the earth. Now, the report is up online and downloadable for Free in .pdf form, all 121 pages of it. You can peruse it at your leisure, but if you have been following the “climate debate” for any period of time and are not in a state of complete denial, it's not going to tell you anything real new that you don't intuitively know already, that the climate is changing and that change appears to be accelerating. In nice scientific fashion, Jim documents this, and about the only difference from earlier studies is that the tone gets increasingly more strident, trying to get people to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!
This follows on the heels of the Pope's recent encyclical, and Moonbeam Goobernator of Sunny and Very Dry CA Jerry Brown's warning that climate change is going to fuck us up if we don't DO SOMETHING. For Collapse Blogosphere fans, you can add to that Guy McPherson's uber-doom prediction of Human Extinction by 2030 or so.
Now again, while the rhetoric is getting more strident, this isn't a whole lot different than what we heard from Rachel Carson with Silent Spring in the 1960's, or from the Club of Rome with Limits to Growth in the 1970s. You never got any real changes out of those studies, why would you expect this will be any different?
The Industrial model isn't run by any one person or even a group of persons that can put the brakes on it. It's a set of systems that built up over time, with the choices made for that build up not made by the population at large, but rather by a few people in positions of control of credit and the war machine. The problem here is that the choices made in the past cannot now be reversed, at least not without a tremendous amount of social dislocation at the very least, and really in many places dependent on these system a whole lot of dead people. Which you will get eventually no matter what, but both individuals and entire civilizations tend to try to put of dying as long as they can, by whatever means they can.
The biggest problems I see with the Hansen study are twofold. First of all, even if you accept the theory that the current climate problems are generated mainly by fossil fuel burning, can stopping that burning now reverse the changes made already? This doesn't seem likely now. There is evidence of a 40 year lag time between when the fossil fuel gets burned and its end effect on the environment. There is also evidence that if you took the particulates created by burning fossil fuels out of the air, this would actually cause more rapid warming because more sunlight would make it through. Beyond that, Hansen doesn't address the corollary problem, which is that if you quit burning fossil fuels on a dime, even if it were possible to flick it off like a light switch, precisely how would we run all the systems that depend on this energy these days, like your electric lights, the sewage treatment plants in the Big Shities, etc?
The second major problem is the timeline question. Again, accepting Hansen's results here, even at the most rapid of glacial melting, it's going to take 20 years or more for sea levels to rise even 10m or so. The prospect of all these coastal cities underwater by say 2050 is certainly horrifying, but the issue is we have other more pressing problems likely to hit even before that.
First of is the ongoing collapse of the monetary system. This is the “glue” that holds many of the rest of our systems together, the energy extraction bizness, the transportation system, the electric grid and the communications network. Shut down the fossil fuel economy, the monetary system implodes right behind it. How are all the rest of those systems supposed to function here without fossil fuels and without a monetary system to do the trade and keep the stuff moving around?
Next up, you have the food production and distribution problem itself, affected by energy availability, population overshoot, topsoil degradation and water availability. To begin with, the huge ag yields of the industrial era come from fossil fuel based fertilizers. Quit using the fossil fuels to keep the sea level from rising, poof your yields drop. How exactly are you going to get what food you can still grow from the fields to the people living in the big shities before they are underwater? How exactly are you going to pump what water is left in Lake Mead over to the AG fields in central CA? If you follow Jim's prescription for saving the world from SLR, even if it could be implemented and would work (neither of which is very likely), then you run into the problem that everything else breaks down BEFORE the glaciers have a chance to melt enough for a 10M sea level rise. So why even bother with this discussion and political controversy? It's a WASTE OF FUCKING TIME!
Forget the Seawater arriving problem in 50 years, you have the Freshwater leaving problem ALREADY hitting! Just about everybody knows about the problems they have in sunny & dry Califronia already, most of the Doom community knows about Sao Paolo in Brasil, but then on top of THAT you have the fact the Ogalala Aquifer is drying up.
The prairie wind buffeted Brant Peterson as he stood in a half-dead field of winter wheat.
In front of him, a red-winged blackbird darted in and out of a rippling green sea of healthy wheat.
Behind him, yellowed stalks rotted in the ground.
The reason for the stark contrast was buried 600 feet under Peterson’s dusty boots: Only part of the field – the thriving part – had been irrigated by water pumped at that depth from the ancient Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest underground sources of fresh water in the world.
“If not for irrigation that whole field would look like this,” Peterson said, nudging the dead wheat with the toe of his boot.
But irrigation soon could end on Peterson’s southwest Kansas farm. The wells under his land in Stanton County are fast running dry as farmers and ranchers across the Great Plains pump the Ogallala faster than it can be replenished naturally.
You need to accept a few facts of life here:
1) The glaciers are likely to melt and sea levels will rise no matter what is done over the near to medium term.
2) You can't get a political consensus on what to do about that in any case.
3) Other Economic, Geopolitical and Climate problems are going to hit before ocean rise is a major problem.
So then you have to decide what you CAN do in the face of this
1) Where can I choose to live, if I have some kind of choice?
2) What will I need to survive as things spin down?
3) How long do I have before it gets REALLY bad where I currently am?
Jim took 112 pages to write his report, I can synopsize it all with one acronym, FUBAR, Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition. There is no way SLR is getting solved now, I doubt it was even possible to prevent this back when Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, and that is even assuming it's all Anthropogenic, which I don't think it is. It doesn't matter though whether this is primarily driven by Anthropogenic causation or Geotectonic causation, because either way the trajectory is basically the same, the sea levels will rise and a significant portion of Homo Saps currently walking the earth will no longer be doing so in a few years, or at most decades of time. Those who are still ambulatory won't be located where these current coastal cities are, which should indicate to you that a preponderance of the dieoff will come form these places. That is CFS.
I think a lot of people bog down here when presented with these BIG ISSUES of climate change that are going to play out over the next century or even faster than that over the next 50 years, complete with all the Scientific Documentation. For Jim Hansen as a Chicken Little on this one, instead of “The Sky is Falling”, it's “The Oceans are Coming!”. Which IMHO I think he is correct on, but we have much more pressing problems that will hit before those do, possibly in the next couple of years but no longer than a decade for many of them.
The other big problem you have is many people get overwhelmed by the scope of all the problems, considering it all so bad that absolutely nobody can survive, all the habitat on earth for other living creatures we depend on will be destroyed and we'll all go extinct, possibly leaving the globe to be taken over by the Tardigrades for a few millenia until they get fried too.
This is of course a possibility, but given the cycles the Earth has already gone through, and the fact populations do suffer knockdowns but then bounce back later, it's sure not written in stone here that Homo Sap will go extinct, and not on the 15 year timeline of Guy McPherson to be sure. If you go up in latitude, average temperature decreases. If you go up in altitude it does also. So really all one relatively small group of people needs to do is find one little valley somewhere to live in balance with the nature that surrounds them while the rest of the earth heals itself, which granted might take a few millenia, but seems likely to occur based on the geologic history.
75,000 years ago when the Supervolcano Toba went ballistic, the population of Homo Saps was knocked down to 10,000 Human Souls, or 1000 Breeding Pairs. There is a decent amount of debate over whether Toba actually was the cause of this, but the genetic record is pretty clear, and CFS should tell you that we started from a relatively small group of people, or even incipient people going back into pre-history far enough to Austrolopithecus and so forth.
From that small number, we bounced up to the current 7B, much of that current population fed on the stored thermodynamic energy in fossil fuels. We'll most likely never get that big in population again, but it is still no sure thing that we will go extinct either. It aint' OVAH till the Fat Lady Sings
For the individual inside the Industrial Economy right now, it is much like riding a Chinese Bullet train headed for a Bridge across the Yangtze River you know will not support the train. You know it is destined to crash. Your problem is you don't know the exact speed at which the train is moving or the exact distance between where it is now and where the bridge is. So you can't know exactly how long it will take to get there. Right now, they are serving really nice Lobster & Filet Mignon in the Dining Car too, and who wants to leave that? Especially in order to leave you have to jump off a moving train into unknown territory, and convince your loved ones to jump with you too!
So it is pretty hard to quit on it, and really about all the people I have run into over the years who have quit are single and male, with a few exceptions of couples trying subsitence farming. That's obviously not rewilding, and in about all cases still relies on many inputs from the Industrial economy as well. There are not any cookbook solutions to this problem, but I do caution against obsessing over Sea Level Rise as the most pressing problem we face here, it is not. It can give you some window into deciding where you do NOT want to be, which obviously is any low lying Big Shity, but there are a few other obviously poor spots, like Las Vegas and Sao Paulo also. Of course, even Alaska isn't looking so great these days with all the wildfires, though we have had some rain and they have calmed down a bit. Still generally better than most places though.
Wherever you do end up, your survival will depend on luck and circumstance as much or more than any prepping you can do, but you can't do without the prepping either. It is also a pointless exercise to obsess about Extinction, which was always an inevitability, only the timeline was a question mark. All Living things Die, all Civilizations Collapse, all Species go Extinct. Perhaps if we had more Wisdom or Sapience as George Mobus on Question Everything puts it, we might have been able to keep this civilization going a bit longer than it did, but I doubt it. There are thermodynamic imperatives at work here that supercede the sapience of any individual, and we are only as smart as the whole network we create, which is only as smart as the dumbest node in there, and there are a lot of dumb ones out there, even in control of the levers of power.
Where we will be as a species in 10 years, 20 years or a century is anybody's guess. Where we will not be is no guess at all, we won't be Star Treking the Universe, that is certain. Where you or your progeny will be, also uncertain, but all you really can do as an individual is live another day, until you can't anymore. The imperative of life is to keep living as long as you can. You are not responsible or in control of what occurs to the entire race of Homo Saps no matter what you do, what choices you make. On the eternal level, you are only responsible for your own morality and your own ethics, and whatever they were or are, those are your legacy for your life. They will remain on your balance sheet for all eternity. Choose them well.