Why you need to set up a Rural Doomstead: Part 1

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on January 17, 2017

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I pondered many of the following issues in previous articles and provided the scientific references for the assertions made. This three part essay refines some concepts and includes updates based on developments over the past couple of years. Some repetition was necessary to provide a holistic overview for the first time reader.

Dr David Suzuki delivered an inspirational talk in Adelaide in March 2016. He said we must not give up the fight to save our planet from climate devastation. Unfortunately he gave no details as to exactly how this can be realistically achieved. He offered only general advice that we should elect governments which must transform our societies to use 100% renewable energy. He praised the South Australians for reaching a 40% renewable energy level. Unfortunately, even if we can muster the political will and even if we can scrounge up enough remaining high net energy petroleum to undertake such a belated widespread transformation (both prospects being highly doubtful), it will still fail to address the underlying problem of our excessive human population (with accompanying excessive resource depletion and waste production), which is the "big fat elephant" of the apocalypse.

 

It is now well established that IPCC projections have been watered down rubbish which only took into account the greenhouse effect of CO2 and a few short term feedback loops (but ignored other GHGs and many other feedback loops). Real world events such as the Greenland ice melt and severe weather events have proved far worse than the IPCC worst case scenarios. We have NO “carbon budget” remaining, within which we can prevent a 2 degree C rise.

Consider the path we are now on: With ongoing emissions, ongoing large human footprint and unchecked positive feedback loops, we are probably looking at a long term global average temperature rise of 8 to 10 degrees C or more. "Geo-engineering" such as injecting sulphates into the upper atmosphere may temporarily reduce temperatures in localised areas, but will almost certainly create even worse unintended consequences e.g. acid rain, disruption of monsoons. In the long term these ideas are insane. Nevertheless insanity has never stopped homo stupidus from pursuing bad ideas. Let us consider more optimistic scenarios which require the application of wisdom and restraint (and hence will not occur):

Consider this carbon neutral scenario: Imagine if we could magically transform all societies to 100% renewable energy and magically cease all fossil fuel emissions tomorrow. However if the human global footprint remains otherwise unchanged, planetary re-vegetation and CO2 draw down cannot and will not occur. The current atmospheric GHG concentrations today of more than 480ppm CO2 equivalent, combined with loss of global dimming effect when emissions cease, combined with the unavoidable (albeit limited) positive feedbacks associated with this capped GHG level, will still commit us to around 4 degrees C global average temperature rise and around 25 metres sea level rise in the long term (perhaps 80 years). Those are determined by physics and chemistry and are cast in stone. Magical immediate transformation to 100% renewable energy will not stabilise global temperature at our current level. However four degrees, although devastating, is still far better than 8 or 10 degrees long term and is therefore a lesser evil compared with existing coal mining, gas fracking and unconventional oil debacles (harvesting all the tar sands in Alberta alone has the potential to raise the global temperature by 2 degrees C.)

Consider this even less likely carbon reduction scenario: Imagine if 99% of all human beings were to magically vanish tomorrow and the remaining humans (and associated crops and livestock) were to occupy only 1% of our current planetary footprint. Will it be possible for rapid re-vegetation of the remaining planet to sequester enough CO2 to halt, possibly even reverse, global warming by 2100? Climate scientist Professor Jason Box has done the sums and says we will need re-vegetation areas equivalent to seven planet Earths to draw down atmospheric CO2 from 400 to 350ppm. http://jasonbox.net/area-needed-plant/ Hence the only conceivable scenario in which a CO2 reduction to 350ppm by, say, the end of this century can possibly occur will require not only the sudden disappearance of virtually all humans and rapid re-vegetation of the entire remaining planet, it will also require additional urgent artificial carbon sequestration on a huge scale, the proposals for which are unproven and purely hypothetical1.

Nevertheless, let us continue with this thought experiment. Just how may a sudden massive reduction of the human population take place? Ignoring the unlikely immediate prospects of an asteroid impact or a mega volcanic eruption e.g. from the Yellowstone caldera, the only other credible scenarios are:

  • global thermonuclear war. This will ignite all the cities and burn the remaining forests, producing black smoke, initially causing nuclear winter, but ultimately liberating vast quantities of CO2, which will horrendously exacerbate global warming… or

  • a global human pandemic. A naturally mutated bird flu virus or haemorrhagic virus may kill several hundred million people, however that will still be woefully insufficient to significantly diminish our human planetary footprint (especially if it mainly affects Third World countries, which have a minuscule carbon footprint compared with the Industrialised World). Only a highly contagious, universally lethal, genetically engineered microbe (namely, weaponised smallpox), mainly targeting the industrialised countries, may reduce the human footprint by sufficient magnitude to make a meaningful environmental difference. The survivors of such an engineered pandemic will be those who have vaccinated themselves in advance i.e. the very architects of this vile genocide i.e. the psychopaths who run the USA2. However they are the worst specimens imaginable for further human propagation. Indeed, due to the megalomaniacal, narcissistic, deceitful, manipulative, toxic and homicidal nature of such people, the inevitable chronic infighting and backstabbing amongst them will lead to their demise in the long term. If the parasites of society have killed the hosts from whom they leeched sustenance, the parasites themselves are doomed to perish.

The outcomes above are horrific from the human point of view, although the pandemic scenario would undoubtedly be highly desirable from the non-human point of view, if our planetary co-inhabitants had any say.

Given our present circumstances, there is NO possible outcome which will be pleasant for humanity. If, as we expect, human numbers (and associated resource depletion and waste production) increase over the next few years while we pursue business as usual, the inevitable resource constraints (especially of centrally distributed water and food, which both rely on "high net energy" petroleum, which is scheduled to decline precipitously) will be the main mechanism causing widespread human die-off in the short term (less than 20 years, possibly only 10 years). This is what "overshoot" means: that a population has exceeded the carrying capacity of its environment and will inevitably exhaust its resource base. This is an indisputable mathematical fact of Nature and is no more open to debate than the fact that 2+2=4. It highlights the fact that it is impossible to have infinite growth on a finite planet. Malthus was not wrong, he was merely ahead of his time. Our existing World Order, a covert neocolonial system enforced by propaganda, politico-economic skulduggery and military brutality, is designed to funnel resources from poor to rich countries. Therefore the poorer and politically weaker nations of the world will be the first to be starved of resources and implode. This concept has been expressed in another way: that collapse will destroy the “periphery” first, before decimating the “core” nations. Ultimately all organised large scale societies will collapse (including NZ, unless Kiwis are able to wean themselves off fossil fuel addiction ASAP). Population decline will be relatively sudden, although not nearly as abrupt as with a thermonuclear war or a global pandemic. Regional conflicts, pollution, climate chaos (heat waves, droughts, floods, storms) and tropical epidemics will also play significant roles in the die-off. This is the path we are now taking, mathematically validated by repeated updated computer runs of the Limits to Growth models, which however may be over optimistic according to analysis by the Stockholm Resilience Centre http://www.stockholmresilience.org/research/research-news/2015-01-15-planetary-boundaries—an-update.html

Contrary to the fake news expectorated by the mainstream media, the real world economy has stagnated and indeed contracted over the past decade, generally as a result of the Limits to Growth but specifically as a result of resource constraints, principally Peak Oil. Whereas impending precipitous curtailment of “high net energy” petroleum ensures that global industrial collapse will be complete within 20, or even 10 years, it is probable that financial and economic collapse will occur much sooner because of the massive fraud pervading the entire financial framework. “Price discovery” brings about the “Minsky moment”. Economy paralysis can cause abrupt curtailment of centrally provided services every bit as devastating as resource depletion can.

This message of a dire future, despite being supported by irrefutable evidence and logic (and mathematical modelling), tends to be universally rejected by "normal" people in conventional society. Some like to believe that space travel to Mars can save us. Or the "Singularity" can save us. Or the "Rapture" will save us. Some even deny that there are any problems whatsoever. If such insanity is considered "normal" then I am thankful to be abnormal.

I explored every avenue available to alert the public to these issues starting with two talks on ABC Radio National, broadcast in 2005, regarding the need to develop an emissions neutral liquid hydrocarbon fuel to replace petroleum. I subsequently made representations to politicians and had personal meetings with State MPs who later became the State Ministers for Transport and the Environment. I also wrote letters of petition to those Ministers. I corresponded with my local Federal MP, Kevin Rudd (who later became Prime Minister) about Peak Oil concerns. I conducted mass mailouts of data discs containing copious information (audio, video and text) about Peak Oil to approximately 800 GPs around Brisbane at my own expense. I organised monthly free meetings for doctors, scientists and the general public on environmental and social topics from 2006 to 2013 which merely ended up as talk fests among the converted. I had a meeting with the medical staff of the Public Health Department of the Royal Brisbane hospital (with the support of Dr Jane O'Sullivan, agricultural scientist and Dr Michael Harrison, physician and chemical pathologist) to present these issues, which ended up a complete waste of time. I organised education sessions on Cardiology for medical students, on the understanding that they also had to learn about sustainability issues during the second half of each meeting. They lost interest after three sessions.

Over the years our planetary problems have only worsened. It is estimated that 50% of all animals in the wilderness have perished over the past 40 years, a sure indicator that our ecosystems are collapsing, that the 6th great global mass extinction is well under way. If anything, public denial of reality has become more entrenched, thanks to propaganda from the mainstream media, the primary source of "fake news" in this world. Crass buffoonery, racism and a strident sense of entitlement have intensified among the general population of many rich countries, as evidenced by the rise of the "One Nation" party in Australia, many right wing factions in Europe and the election of Drumpf in the USA.

The only conclusion possible now is that the general population cannot be saved from their own stupidity. It is impossible to prevent mass human die-off. It is pointless expending any more time and energy trying to "save society". As per capita resources diminish and people experience more hardship and deprivation, the inevitable consequence is escalation of domestic and international conflicts around the world. This is happening right now. Sapient people who grasp these concepts must also realise they can do nothing about this. The best they can do at this late stage is to get themselves, their family and their friends out of harms way (provided family and friends are willing to listen, which is often not the case).

Complacency will guarantee the die-off of those people who place all their faith in centrally controlled services (water, food, waste disposal, energy), which are certain to eventually collapse. Exactly when the lights will go out in each particular location is unknowable. Most likely they will flicker on and off for a while before going dark for good.

After years of futile effort, I finally concluded in 2012 that the establishment of numerous off-grid permaculture homesteads in climate resilient locations is the only feasible strategy which may offer a reasonable quality of life to a tiny proportion of people when the crunch comes. The sapient must seize control of their own future and must not foolishly look to governments or corporations for solutions. Those self serving edifices are the source of our problems. The non-sapient population will simply have to be written off and are not worth mourning. Certainly not the people in the rich countries who created this mess in the first place, yet deny its existence. And yes, I too am an egregious contributor to this mess, having been born into a high consumption capitalist society and being a major beneficiary of this monumental fossil fuel mediated clusterfuck. So I don't deserve to be mourned either. Those we should mourn are the poor of the world, especially in India, Africa and Latin America who bear tiny individual environmental footprints. They are the least culpable people but will suffer the most.

G. Chia Jan 2017

PS: footnotes to the red reference numbers will appear as part 3 of this essay triptych

 

Note from RE:  By request from GC, comments will be suspended on this series until chapter 3 is published.

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