Climate

Climate Slides for Diners

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on February 14, 2017

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PDF: Why IPCC is Watered Down Guff

 

 

Dear Diners,

Above is a link to a set of slides in pdf format  which you can present to your family and friends, on why the IPCC projections are watered down guff, why climate catastrophe is inevitable and why you should stop worrying about it. The slides are largely self explanatory however two slides require elaboration which I have provided below. Before presenting this information to others I recommend you listen to David Wasdell's "facing the harsh realities of now" talk http://www.apollo-gaia.org/harsh-realities-of-now.html at least 2 to 3 times. His summary is probably the best compiled by anyone to date (although he ends with a delusional message that solar energy can save us, which is unfortunate).

Why the IPCC's information selection process is deeply flawed:

In October 2013 at the Griffith University Southbank campus in Brisbane, I attended a talk by Professor Nathan Bindoff, a climate scientist from the University of Tasmania who is highly regarded by the international scientific community and who was chairman of many previous IPCC proceedings. He presented the IPCC fifth assessment report.

The knowledgable audience were less than convinced about the IPCC projections, which were out of date even before AR5 was published and we asked him specific questions about the IPCC process and assumptions.

He described their process of information selection: scientific studies for inclusion into or exclusion from the IPCC report are selected by a large number of government employed scientists from around the world. However it is not a democratic process where, say, if more than half of the group decide a particular paper is important, it is included. The IPCC uses a "lowest common denominator" process whereby if just one member of the audience objects to any part of any paper, it is completely thrown out.

Dr Bindoff described the process where perhaps a couple of hundred scientists sit in a room and painstakingly go through every line of every paper submitted. He mentioned that typically by the third day, 80% of the originally submitted peer reviewed scientific studies have been thrown out, to be completely excluded from IPCC consideration.

Clearly this is not honest science, it is a political process designed to select only the most watered down, low ball estimates, so as to fabricate the most optimistic future climate scenarios. This explains why report after report, real world events have exceeded the worst case IPCC projections eg ice loss, sea level rise, severe weather events etc.

Why the IPCC's climate sensitivity calculations are grossly inadequate:

When specifically questioned, Dr Bindoff also admitted that the IPCC had completely ignored the most important climate event ever since the Earth was hit by a dinosaur killing asteroid 66 million years ago: the release of methane from the Arctic coast which has gone ballistic since around 2008. To me this confirms that the IPCC is a bogus pseudoscience body perverted by governments addicted to fossil fuels and that they only tell the public half the truth.

Arctic methane release is just one source of methane they have ignored and methane release is just one of the so-called "slow" feedback loops they have ignored, which are in fact occuring much faster than anticipated.

The IPCC calculate future temperature rises based only on the direct greenhouse effect of CO2 and a few fast feedback loops which themselves have been grossly underestimated. For example the IPCC grossly underestimated the loss of Arctic sea ice and therefore grossly underestimated the loss of albedo over the Arctic and therefore grossly underestimated the magnitude of this feedback loop.

There are other new, previously unanticipated, self reinforcing feedback loops which are now coming to light and therefore also completely off the radar of the IPCC eg the ingress of warm air into the Arctic due to marked weakening and waviness of the North circumpolar jet stream. The IPCC can hardly be blamed for not considering that, however it shows how the rapid onset of real world events quickly render their assessment reports obsolete.

Why Guy McPherson's prediction of NTHE by 2026 due to global warming is complete nonsense:

  • Just as the IPCC have misrepresented things by selecting only the most unreasonably optimistic scientific papers to promote their views, similarly GM has misrepresented things by selecting only the most unreasonably pessimistic scientific papers to promote his views.

  • We do not know what the most probable future scenario is, nobody does, but let us make an assessment of circumstances in the year 2100 based on a worse than worst case scenario. Let us assume all people in the Northern Hemisphere will be dead by 2100.

  • The IPCC AR5 worst case sea level rise by 2100 of 1 metre has now been rejected by most climate scientists since publication of a paper in 2016 by James Hansen and colleagues. That other doyen of climate science, Dr Michael Mann, had some reservations about the Hansen paper, but many scientists now regard a 2 metre sea level rise by 2100 as possible.

  • Hansen had however in an older paper projected as much as a 10 metre sea level rise by 2100, so let us instead adopt this worse than worst case scenario.

  • We know that complete melt of both the Greenland and West Antarctic ice shields will raise sea levels by more than 14 metres https://water.usgs.gov/edu/sealevel.html

  • By implication, the worse than worst case sea level rise of 10 metres by 2100 means that some of the Greenland and/or West Antarctic ice shield will still be intact in 2100, and indeed most of the ice on the Antarcticic continent will also be intact then.

  • Ice moderates nearby air and water temperatures. Cold melt water flowing into the sea keeps that sea temperature cool, which in turn keeps coastal areas bathed in that sea cool.

  • Therefore high latitude coastal areas in the Southern Ocean (the southern tips of NZ, Chile and Argentina and some islands eg the Falklands) will remain relatively cool even if GATR rises by 8 or 10degC by 2100. Those areas in the deep south will still have habitats with moderate temperatures conducive for growing food and rearing livestock in the year 2100 (and for substantial time after), even using this worse than worst case scenario. By definition, survival of even a small number of people means that human extinction will not occur by 2100 even based on this worse than worst case scenario. For someone to declare that NTHE will definitely occur by 2026 is thus completely nonsensical, is not scientific and is based on nihilistic ideology, not logic or reason.

  • As the Antarctic ice melts it is almost inevitable that humans will migrate to Antarctica if all other parts of the world become too hot.

 

 

Trump: the Defeat of Science

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on January 22, 2017

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Minutes after Donald Trump took office as President, the page on climate change of the website of the White House disappeared. This may be just a result of some internal protocol, but also the first stage of a coming "purge" of climate science and climate scientists. In any case, the election of Trump is a major defeat for science and we need to understand what mistakes we made to arrive at this point. I am writing here something that probably won't make me popular with my scientist colleagues, but I thought I had to write it.

Defeats are supposed to teach people how to do better; in theory. In practice, it often happens that defeats teach people how to become masters in blame-shifting. With some exceptions, this seems to have been the main result of the recent defeat of the Democrats in the 2016 presidential election, where we saw a truly spasmodic search for culprits: Putin, the Russian hackers, the Fake News, the Rednecks, the FBI, Exxon, the aliens from Betelgeuse, and more. Everything except admitting one's mistakes.

Even less soul searching has been performed by those who turned out to be among the major losers in this story: science and scientists. In particular, climate scientists saw their field wiped out from the White House Website minutes after President Trump took office. That may have been simply a question of protocol, but surely it is not a good omen for the future.

So far, scientists have reacted with appropriate outrage to possibilities such as Trump repudiating the Paris climate treaty. However, on the average, scientists seem to be completely unable to even imagine that there may be something wrong with what they have been doing. We may have here a good illustration of the principle expressed by James Schlesinger that "people have only two modes of operation: complacency and panic". Even though some scientists are starting to show symptoms of panic, most of them seem to be still in complacency mode.

Yet, for everything that happens there is a reason and if you invaded Russia in winter it is no good to blame the snow for the defeat. So, what did scientists do that led them to a situation that may turn out to be even worse than the retreat from Moscow for Napoleon's Grande Armée?

One problem, here, is that if scientists had wanted to present themselves to the public as a priesthood of acolytes interested only in maintaining their petty privileges, they succeeded beyond the rosiest expectations. Yet, I don't think that this is the problem. Overall, science is still a sane profession and very few scientists have been directly involved in financial scandals. The public perceives this and normally rates scientists as much more trustworthy than – say- journalists or politicians. And modern climate science, as part of the field of Earth sciences, is nothing less than a triumph of human knowledge. Truly a major advance of what we know on the way our planet and our ecosystem work.

The problem, in my opinion, is a different one. It goes deeper and it is not related to individual scientists or to specific scientific fields. It has to do with science as a whole and, in particular, with the inconsistent messages that scientists are beaming to the public. According to the results reported by Ara Norenzayan's in "Big Gods" (Princeton, 2013), people have a built-in "lie detector" in their minds that works by a heuristic algorithm: people will evaluate the truth of what they are told on the basis of consistency. Not only the message must be consistent in itself, but also the messenger must be consistent with the message carried. This is a fundamental point: people don't normally care about data and factual evidence: they care about the consistency of the message in their social environment; it is something that Dan Kahan has shown in a series of studies on the public perception of climate science.

So, if your local prophet tells you that you must be chaste, he'd better be chaste himself. If he tells you that you must make sacrifices and accept poverty, he'd better be poor himself. And chastity/poverty must be acceptable in your social environment. These are things that Francis of Assisi understood already long ago. Then, think of Donald Trump: why was he elected? It was, mainly, because Trump's political message was consistent with Trump himself. Trump was telling people that he would make America rich and powerful and that was perfectly consistent with the fact that he is rich and powerful himself. Because of this, Trump's message didn't trigger people's lie detector and Trump the unthinkable became Trump the unavoidable.

Getting back to science, the message of climate change is intimately linked to the need of making sacrifices. We are asking people to reduce their consumption, reduce waste, travel less, and the like. It is a perfectly legitimate message and many religious groups have been carrying similar messages successfully. Of course, it would never work if Donald Trump were to propose it; but why can't scientists propose it successfully? Scientists are not Franciscan monks, but normally they are not rich. I often tell my PhD students that they are exchanging three years of starvation for a lifetime of unemployment. I don't really need to tell them that: they know that by themselves.

The problem is that there exists another side of science where scientists are beaming out exactly the opposite message of that of the need of making sacrifices. It is the side of the "gee-whiz science" or, maybe, "Santa Claus Science", scientific research still operating along the optimistic ideas developed in the 1950s, at the time of the "space age" and the "atomic age". The message that comes from this area is, "give us some money and we'll invent some magic device that will solve all the problema." It is a message that's ringing more and more hollow and the public is starting to perceive that the scientists are making promises they can't maintain. Not only the various scientific miracles that were promised are not materializing (say, nuclear fusion) but many pretended scientific revolutions are making things worse (say, shale oil). Still, many scientists keep making these promises and a certain section of society accepts – even requires – them.

So, the name of the problem is inconsistency. Scientists are taking two different and incompatible roles: that of doom-sayers and that of gift-givers. And "inconsistency" is just a polite way to say "lie." White scientist speak with forked tongue. Ye can't serve God and mammon.

The result is that not just Donald Trump despises science; it is a consistent fraction of the public that just doesn't believe the scientific message, especially about climate. The fraction of Americans who think that climate change is a serious threat has remained floating around 50% – 60%, going up and down, but not significantly changing. It is trench warfare in the climate communication war. Things may get worse for science under the Trump presidency. It already happened at the time of McCarthy, why shouldn't it happen again?

At this point, good manners dictate that when you write about a problem, you should also propose ways to solve it. Of course, there are ways that could be suggested: first of all, as scientists we should stop asking money for things that we know won't work (the "hydrogen-based economy" is a good example). Then, science badly needs a cleanup: we should crack down on predatory publishers, fight data fabrication, establish transparent standards for scientific publications, provide for free results of science to those who pay for it (the public), get rid of the huge number of irrelevant studies performed today, and more. Personally, I would also like a science that's more of a service for the community and less of a showcase for primadonnas in white coats.

But, as we all know, large organizations (and science is one) are almost impossible to reform from inside. So, where is science going? Difficult to say, but it may need a good shake-up from the outside (maybe from Trump, although he may well exaggerate) to be turned into something that may be what we truly need to help humankind in this difficult moment. The transformation will be surely resisted as much as possible, but change is needed and it will come.

"No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else. he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." (Matthew 6:24)

 

Trumproofing

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Published on Peak Surfer on November 20, 2016

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“Ideally, in a democracy, everybody would agree that climate change is the consequence of man-made behavior, because that’s what ninety-nine per cent of scientists tell us. And then we would have a debate about how to fix it. That’s how, in the seventies, eighties, and nineties, you had Republicans supporting the Clean Air Act and you had a market-based fix for acid rain rather than a command-and-control approach. So you’d argue about means, but there was a baseline of facts that we could all work off of. And now we just don’t have that.”


Last week, we recalled the words of Hitler’s social architect Albert Speer, “One seldom recognizes the devil when he is putting his hand on your shoulder.” And yet, despite all the entreaties to slay the beast and make sure its dead — from Ralph Nader, Naomi Klein, Joe Brewer, whomever — we have to confess, after Paris and now after Marrakech, the only highway back to the Holocene that can support mammalian life such as ours is being constructed by and for monster corporations like Citibank and Monsanto.

At a side event in the business tent we sat down in a corner to have some local Arabica while we awaited the next session. We struck up a conversation with the elderly gent in the adjoining seat. He was John Scowcroft, Chief Credit Officer and Executive Managing Director at S&P. We showed him The Biochar Solution and the usual conversation followed. Turns out he is leaving S&P to start a CCS group to seize the profit potential in carbon management futures.

Later, at a side event called Beyond Paris: Investor actions to manage climate risk and seize low-carbon opportunities, we were listening attentively to James Close, World Bank; Erick Decker, AXA Group; Michael Eckhart, Citigroup; Pete Grannis, NY State Comptroller’s Office; Anthony Hobley, Carbon Tracker and others, when Rachel Kyte spotted our book, The Paris Agreement, and leaned over to ask, “Is that any good?”

“Fantastic!” we gushed.

A former Vice President of World Bank, she is Ban Ki Moon’s Special Representative to the business community.

Over the course of the two weeks in Morocco we had brief encounters like this too many times to catalogue. We tell you this not to suggest we are anyone special but to say that in this critical time we — you and I — have been given access.

Historically this is the rarest of moments. Crisis makes for strange bedfellows (ask James Comey and Julian Assange). Citibank, with branches in 160 countries, went from financing $12 billion in green project finance in 2013 to $24 billion in 2014 to $48 billion in 2015 and likely $100 billion this year. Deutsche Bank will tally $350 billion in investments aimed at decarbonization in 2016. More importantly, the big banks have dumped $500 billion in fossil asset portfolios since Paris and would have liked to dump much more if they only had a safe place to park it, even interest-free.

The board rooms have Trump-proofed the Paris Agreement and the whole paradigm shift that came with it. There is absolutely no way any clown show is going to hijack these negotiations now. Wall Street, the Illuminati, the Buddhist monasteries, NeoLib Academe, The Vatican, the Royals and the Chinese Triads are all 110 percent committed. They are shoulder to shoulder in the doorway.

For some it is just prudent risk management and upside profit opportunity. For others it is the stark, cold-sweat, can’t-sleep reality: that absolute annihilation leaves no gloaters behind.

Rachel Kyte told the crowd, “Carbon is an investment risk that is not yet priced in.” This situation is not likely to last much longer. We hovered longest in the venues that were looking at drawdown, and we could see that so much of the finance and political world is focused on technological fixes like geoengineering and CCS (carbon capture and storage) that putting a price on carbon and taxing the polluters is coming, Trump or no. It is the only way you can economically justify those uneconomical, harebrained, bait-and-switch schemes.

In a brief, airport encounter, an IPCC working group leader told us $45 per ton would be needed to make the 2-degree limit achievable with sequestered scrubber gas.

Of course, we know better. Putting carbon underground costs nothing and pays handsome returns if you do it by planting mixed species, mixed age, ecosystemically functioning, climate resilient and rainmaking forests and coppice, pollard and patch renew them periodically to derive food, fiber, building material and most importantly, biochar, to create cascades of products and services in a circular economy with no such thing as waste. That does not require a $45/ton price or even 4 cents. It will earn you vastly more. Real wealth.

The best way to raise land value is to increase its beauty with biodiversity, increase the organic matter in its soils, build humus, make biochar and be a contributing member of the local community. Just doing that reverses climate change and generates multiple revenue streams for any poor sod who stumbles into it.

The Secretary General of the British Commonwealth, Hon. Baroness Patricia Scotland, at the closing plenary of the Joint High-level Segment [COP agenda item 18 and CMP agenda item 14 and Item 4 of the provisional CMA agenda] uttered the word “permaculture” for the first time at a United Nations podium:

 

"Mr. President, I speak for the Commonwealth collectively, a family of 52 member states, among them countries in all continents and oceans that are highly vulnerable to climate change. Our priority is to move from agreement to action. Small islands threatened by rising sea levels and larger states vulnerable to flooding or desertification share the common advantages of a common language, common law, and closely related systems of governance. These similarities enable us to work together without distraction and get straight to the nub of issues.

"High on our agenda for 30 years has been the impact of climate change. This long-standing focus bore fruit a year ago when our Biannual Heads of Government Meeting assembled in Malta. Days before COP21, our member states, in their rich diversity, agreed to set ambition high and paved the way for the Paris Agreement. Our practical and distinctive Commonwealth contribution is technical support, offered by our Climate Finance Access Hub.

"A month ago, we convened a ground breaking and dynamic gathering on Regenerative Development to Reverse Climate Change. It brought together biologists, ecologists, oceanographers and regenerative development specialists to consider ways of reversing the human impacts of climate change. Our focus was on developing positive action for the living world to restore climate balance, including biomimicry, permaculture, ecological engineering, and circular economies. It is through such pioneering approaches, I believe, that as on so many occasions in the past, the potential for our Commonwealth networks’ meetings will be mobilized to lay the foundations on which progressive global consensus can be built to create a safer and more sustainable future for all."

Contrast this to the buffoonery of the apparently tipsy US Secretary of State, obviously winging it:

 

 

 


While the national commitments, or NDCs, that were pledged at Paris in 2015 bend emissions downward, they are still not on a course correcting trajectory. Our planet is moving out of the Neutral Zone, the one location we know of in this galaxy where you may find life. The UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report, even while understating the risk, says we are headed towards 3.4°C warming by 2100 (we think will likely get there much sooner). To get back to a 2-degree "safe" zone (with 66% certainty) we would need 25% lower emissions in 2030 than there are today. And yet, incredible as it may seem, emissions are still rising.

When you are racing against extinction you cannot afford to fritter away time or forget the first rule of holes. 2016 will be the 15th record-breaking year this century in terms of heat, since measurements began. That is 15 new records in 16 years, a pattern any sports fan should recognize as extraordinary.  Globally we are already up 1.2 degrees, although closer to 5 degrees near the poles. Humans have never lived on a planet with 400 parts per million CO2 in its atmosphere before.

 

 

2ºC is a vanished target now. But this isn’t a 2ºC or bust fight. It’s a fight to limit consequences. It’s a fight for every 1/10th of a degree. If we fail to hold to 2ºC, we have to fight for 2.1º; failing that, we battle on for 2.2º. With millennia of impacts at stake, we never get to give up, even if we end up in 4ºC. For future generations, 4º is still better than 4.1º.

 


It is useful to remember that in 2007 the Met Office produced a four-degree scenario on behalf of HM Government. Climate scientists from other institutions also contributed their most up-to-date research on climate impacts at the time.

As we mull (or bemoan) the average intelligence of Republican presidents, we recall that it was Group Captain James Stagg, also of the  MetOffice, who changed the nail-hard mind of Dwight D. Eisenhower and got him to postpone D-day by 24 hours, despite Operation Neptune being already well underway. The MetOffice is not an outfit whose predictions should be trifled with.

You can view the changes plotted by MetOffice as a four degree interactive map or see it through Google Earth. The MetOffice reports:

 

  • Heat changes will not be the same everywhere. Mid-continent North America and Europe and parts of Africa will be 6-7 degrees warmer. Most of Russia and Africa will be 8 degrees or above.
  • In densely populated eastern China hottest days of the year are 11°F warmer. In Toronto, Chicago, Ottawa, New York and Washington DC, make that 22°F hotter. Europe is somewhere in between.
  • The permafrost is gone across vast regions of Canada and Russia. Atmospheric methane, 100 times more effective as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, spikes, inexorably pushing temperatures towards 5 and beyond.
  • Half of the world’s population has inadequate access to water.
  • Half of all Himalayan glaciers are significantly reduced, 70% of the water supply to India and China.
  • In South America, many glaciers disappear completely, taking 75% of Peru’s water with them.
  • Fish populations crash from acidification and coral loss.
  • Forested areas burn, including a large area of the United States, Mexico, South America east of the Andes, Southern and East Africa, the Sahel, eastern and southern Europe and Australia.
  • Maize and wheat yields reduced up to 40% at low latitudes. Soybean yield decreases in all regions. Rice yield declines up to 30% in Asia.
  • Water supplies to rivers drops up to 70% in many regions.
  • The loss of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet contributes 3.3 meters to sea level rise. Greenland ice losses add 7 meters globally.
  • The Netherlands and Southeastern England are inundated. Seychelles, Miami Beach and the Hamptons have disappeared. The San Francisco Bay extends almost to Sacramento. Most of those displaced, however are in India, Bangladesh and Southeast Asia.

So, at four degrees, who would be left to fight for 4.1? What possible good would it do?

 

 

Real world tracks scenario RCP 8.5

As we left Marrakech we felt ambivalent about the outcome. Paris had sent the high benchmark and these follow-on COPs are supposed to fit the nuts to the bolts. There was still a very uncomfortable level of pushback amongst the underdeveloping, with India and Indonesia, both big coal users, saying that economic growth had precedence over near-term emissions cuts. Turkey is planning to build 70 new coal plants. These errors assure the already underdeveloping will continue digging a deeper hole for themselves. New Zealand, which talks a good disinvestment game, plans to increase petroleum exports from $3 billion to $30 billion per year by 2025.

All countries’ leaders need to take stock, a point that was made poignantly clear by this slide from the MetOffice:

 

 

It shows that the world cannot begin atmospheric carbon drawdown later than 2020 — three years from now — or the two degrees red line will be broken.

Clear next steps emerged from discussions: end fossil fuel subsidies (including fracking); phase out coal and then ban it; cancel all new fossil fuel infrastructure orders (including supertankers, arctic exploration and DAPL); set higher efficiency standards; subsidize agroforestry and renewables (down to zero cost); enforce LDN (Land Degradation Neutrality — no net land loss to sprawl, desertification or deforestation — 102 countries have signed on); and reform agriculture to an organic, no-till standard.

These next steps got no farther than discussions, however, and what emerged from Marrakech was more palliative statements and promises that next year will be better. Tick tock. Clown show. Tick tock. "Time is not on our side." (John Kerry) Tick tock. (Donald Trump) Tick tock.

Tick …

The power (and the limits) of propaganda

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on September 4, 2016

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There is a new and very interesting report on the attitudes of the public on Global Warming. It was published on "Environment" on Aug 26, with the title. "The Political Divide on Climate Change: Partisan Polarization Widens in the U.S. It is written by Riley E. Dunlap, Aaron M. McCright and Jerrod H. Yarosh.

The report provides updated data from Gallup polls that basically confirms some interpretations that I had proposed in earlier posts. We seem to be completely stuck with this debate. The percentage of Americans who agree with the scientific interpretation of global warming today is basically the same as it was 10 years ago. You can see it from the figure above; all the data of the report are consistent on this point.  The two camps advance a little and retreat a little, but the front line moves very little.

The figure at the top is also interesting because it provides a long-term assessment of what propaganda can do. You see the remarkable dip in the public belief on the importance of global warming that was originated by the "climategate" psyop that raged in 2009-2010. It is something that will be remembered for centuries as a milestone in the history of propaganda. But look at the data: all the climategate sound and fury had some effect only for a few years. And note how it was most effective on the Republicans, that is the people who were already the most skeptical about climate science. On the democrats, the effect is nearly zero.

We see here both the power and the limits of propaganda. And it tells us something rather chilling. If we ever were able to mount an important information campaign in favor of science, it could hardly be more effective than Climategate was against science. At best, such a campaign would intensify the belief in good science of those who already believe in good science. The debate is stuck: as we keep preaching to the choir, nothing will change.

The reason for this situation is clear from the report – and not just from that. Partisan polarization is increasing in the US and, probably, everywhere in the Western World. And as long as the polarization is so sharp, nothing that can be said by one side will affect the other. And, while we are going nowhere, global warming is marching on.

Is there a way to unlock the situation? Possibly, but it can only be drastic. We know that there is a way to recompact the people of a country and have them fight for a common goal: war. That may be the reason why the West seems to be so much on a war footing nowadays; it is a desperate attempt to recover some kind of national unity while facing a terribly difficult economic situation. But, of course, a major war would spell disaster for all attempts to stop climate change. That is, unless it were to be the right kind of war.….

No Season

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Published on Peak Surfer on April 10, 2016

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"They have given up their banana and avocado farm in Africa and hope to make a go of it in a land where they do not recognize the trees and have a bit of trouble understanding the local dialect."

 

  We are midway through #REX3 — a 10-day advanced permaculture design workshop with our friends Darren Doherty and Cliff Davis here in Southern Tennessee. The site this year is the newly acquired farm of an emigrant family in the rolling hills of Maury County, just about 20 miles from The Farm community.

For those not familiar with the changes going on in the southern regions of Africa, a bit of history might be helpful. The British took control of the Cape of Good Hope in 1806 in order to prevent it from being occupied by the French during the Napoleonic Wars. Dutch-speaking Afrikaners who had been there more than a century chaffed under British authority and didn’t like being forced to speak English, so they migrated inland and although the British recognized the independence of the South African Republic in 1852 and the Orange Free State in 1854, after gold was discovered the Empire returned and reclaimed those regions in the Boer Wars. A visitor from New Zealand described the typical Afrikaner Kraal of that era:

The Boer republics were sparsely populated and most farming communities lived in isolation, linked to each other by crude wagon trails. Following the custom of their forefathers, the Boers believed a farm should be at least 2400 hectares. Boer farms, even those tending livestock, often had no enclosures; the farmhouse would simply be surrounded by open pasture, a few fields of crops and maybe an orchard. The house itself would often be built from clay and usually consisted of two rooms with a thatched roof. The decorations within were modest and the clay floors were routinely smeared with a mixture of cow dung and water to reduce dust.

Of course, the large farms of the Afrikaners did not remain poor. Thanks to slave labor, many generations of farm toil, and the commerce of the British Empire, they grew to be some of the wealthiest and most productive in the world.

Afrikaner history, although now a distant past, was a thorn in the side of the later African anti-apartheid drives of the last century and animosities linger. For a very long time a small white minority had ruled cruelly, and now, finally, majority rule returned. What happened in nearby Zimbabwe is illustrative of what that can mean for the whites.

Like Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress in South Africa, in the white-ruled state of Rhodesia the opposition party ZANU was banned and its leader Robert Mugabe was imprisoned in 1964. In prison Mugabe taught English to his fellow prisoners and earned multiple graduate degrees by correspondence from the University of London. Freed in 1974, he went into exile in Zambia and Mozambique where he built the resistance movement. Later, with support of British negotiators, the new state of Zimbabwe was given majority rule and in 1980 it elected Mugabe, who has been president ever since and has no intended successors.

Mugabe worked to convince his country’s 200,000 whites, including 4,500 commercial farmers, to stay. Then, in 1982, Mugabe sent his North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade to smash dissent. Over five years, an estimated 20,000 civilians were killed and many whites were dispossessed of their farms with no advance notice. In 2000 Mugabe rewrote the Zimbabwean constitution to expand the powers of the presidency and legitimize seizures of white-owned land. The country’s commercial farming collapsed, triggering years of hyperinflation and food shortages in a nation of impoverished billionaires.

In recent years the horrors inflicted by Mugabe have been so sadistic that we are left wondering whether he is demented by syphillis. And yet, through all of this, he enjoyed the support of the ANC in South Africa and has widespread approval in the continent. With the death of Mandela, South Africa has begun moving away from the policies of equanimity between races and it has become increasingly difficult for whites to attend universities and obtain professional employment. Which brings us to Tennessee.

The farm where our students are congregating this morning is a lifeboat for this old family of Dutch ancestry. They have given up their banana and avocado farm in Africa and hope to make a go of it in a land where they do not recognize the trees and have a bit of trouble understanding the local dialect. Back in South Africa are a number of relatives who look towards this young couple and their Tennessee farm as Noah’s Ark in event of a hard rain coming.

The REX advanced course “cuts to the chase” with farm design to assay what the needs are and what strategies will get this ark on a prosperous footing most rapidly. As the Regrarians website describes it:

In the world of workshops & courses there is nothing quite like the #Regrarians 10 day Integrated Farm Planning course or #REX. A carefully crafted distillation of the world’s greatest and most effective methodologies, the #REX is designed for nothing less than effective outcomes. People are participants, not ‘attendees’ or ‘students’ at a #REX, such is the integrity of the course model for its inclusive approach. Following the Regrarians already renowned & highly respected #RegrariansPlatform, the #REX follows a subject a day, building layer by practical layer for the real client and real enterprise that is the basis for this unique 10 day experience.

DAY 1 – Climate (90 minute sessions)
A – Client ‘Climate’ Briefing, Develop Holistic Goal/Concept, Terms of Reference
B – Atmospheric Climate retrieval & analysis, macro & micro climate factors
C – Legal ‘Climate’ retrieval & analysis, Municipal & State planning, other regulations
D – Climate Layer Exercise – Over 60 mins in small work-teams frame responses to the above and report to course findings in 10 mins each group (includes feedback)
E – Thermophyllic Composting Demonstration (scalable)

DAY 2 – Geography
A – Revision; Sandpit: Keyline Geography, Geometry & Applications
B – Assemble & Study Cadastral, Geology, Soil, Topographic, Planning & Mining Maps
C – GIS/GPS/Survey Applications & Technologies, Online GIS resources, Developing Effective Plans
D – Farm Walk ‘n’ Talk, Landscape Reading & Analysis, ‘Farmscape’ Analysis, Define Primary Land Unit & Land Component Boundaries, ‘Bullseye’ Demonstration

DAY 3 – Water
A – Revision; Examine & Overview of Existing Farm Water Systems, Farm Catchment
B – Earth Dam Construction & Water Harvesting Infrastructure – Design, Processes & Applications
C – Farm Irrigation Systems – Design, Applications & Installation
D – Water Layer – Over 90 mins (plus break time) develop farm water storage, harvesting
E – Water Layer Presentation & Feedback session + 10 mins each group for presentation & feedback

DAY 4 – Access
A – Revision; Examine & Overview of Existing Internal & External Farm Access
B – Access Earthworks Design, Engineering, Construction & Applications
C – Dam, Water Harvesting & Access Set Out Practicum: using Surveyor & DIY Instruments (RTK-GPS, Total Station, Transit & Laser Levels)
D – Access Layer – Over 60 mins develop farm access concept plan + 10 mins per group for presentation & feedback

DAY 5 – Forestry
A – Revision; Forestry Systems Applications: Shelterbelts, Alleys, Orchards, Avenues, Woodlands, Blocks, Riparian
B – Forestry Systems Design & Establishment Strategies
C – Forestry Systems Management & Utilisation
D – Forestry Layer – Over 60 mins develop farm forestry concept plan + 10 mins per group for presentation & feedback

DAY 6 – Buildings
A – Revision; Building Types & Technologies: Dwellings, Sheds, Yards & Portable Livestock
B – Building placement strategies, Existing Building Analysis & Retrofitting Options
C – Lucas Portable Sawmill Practicum + Broiler Shelter Construction
D – Building Layer – Over 60 mins develop farm building concept plan + 10 mins per group for presentation & feedback

DAY 7 – Fencing
A – Revision; Fencing Technologies, Applications & Costings
B – Fencing Placement – Land Components/Structures/Livestock systems
C – Fencing Installation Practicum – with local ‘Pro’ Fencer: Build end assemblies, ‘wires & pliers’, electric net fencing, tumblewheel
D – Fencing Layer – Over 60 mins develop farm fencing concept plan + 10 mins per group for presentation & feedback

DAY 8 – Soils
A – Revision, ‘5 Ingredients for Soil Formation’ – House Envelope & SilvoPastoral Applications
B – Farm Soil Classifications & Sample Analysis: Earth Building, Earthworks & Agricultural
C – Yeomans Keyline Plow ‘Pattern Cultivation’, Survey & Set Out
D – ‘Time Poor’ Farm Garden Practicum: No Dig/Wicking Beds; Keyline Plow Forestry &
Orchard Ground Preparation
E – Holistic Management Planned Grazing – Grazing Plan Practicum
 

DAY 9 – Economy
A – Revision; Farm Enterprise Planning: Comparing Enterprises, Market & Resource Analysis, Complementary Enterprise Options & Liaisons, Managing & Limits to Growth & Expectations
B – Farm Enterprise Management: ‘The Team’, Interns/WWOOFERS, Apprentices, Employees/SubContractors, Terms of Reference, Job Descriptions & Contracts
C – Economy Layer – Over 90 mins prepare a Farm Enterprise & Marketing Concept Plan
D – Economy Layer – Continued from Session C – 60 mins of Farm Enterprise & Marketing Concept Plan preparation then 10 mins per group presentation & feedback

DAY 10 – Energy
A – Revision; Farm Energy Conversion & Storage Systems: Solar PV, Solar Thermal, Biomass, BioDigestor, Wind, Hydro; Analysis of suitability & applications
B – Energy Layer – Over 60 minutes prepare an Farm Energy Concept Plan + 10 mins per group presentation & feedback
C – Farm Enterprise Development & Reporting; Client & Contractor Liaisons; Prioritising Works
D – Completed REX ‘Regrarians Platform’ Concept Plan Layer Analysis & Review – Client & Participant Feedback; ‘What’s Next?’; Presentations

Today we are on Day 7 – Fencing. Tomorrow we get to speak about biochar and carbon farming and are looking forward to that part.

As we walked the high ridges of this farm we happened upon an old cemetery, overgrown with vines, its raised crypts caving in, its carvings fading. We posted a photo of one stone on Instagram and someone was kind enough to provide the reference to the verse, which is by poet Felicia Dorothea Hemans (1793-1835). It is called The Hour of Death.

Leaves have their time to fall
And flowers to wither at the north wind’s breath
And stars to set, but all
Thou hast all seasons for thine own, o Death

In many ways this family is lucky. They sensed the north wind’s breath and got out before the knock on the door in the night. They cashed in and took the value of their previous farm with them. All across Europe and the Middle East, changing climate and conflicts over dwindling resources — effects of the population bomb long ago forecast —  are sending waves of penniless and desperate refugees fleeing with nothing at all, just the clothes on their backs.

With the increase of global climate weirding we sometimes get the sense that we may be entering a time without reliable seasonality. There is only one name for that. Death.

In the end, there is no refuge. There is just this one blue marble in space. Either we begin to steward the land the way this workshop of Darren’s teaches, or it will heat up, dry out and support no one.

Alternatively, we can school ourselves with methodologies such as these and live on a garden planet once more, keeping our numbers and demands in harmony with her natural abundance.

Is it even a serious choice?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maginot Line: Permaculture Realized, Part III

youtube-Logo-4gc2reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Albert Bates

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Published on Peak Surfer on March 6, 2016

PeakSurfer

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"There's a problem with all utopian visions which is that sooner or later if you try to put them into practice you run into problems with the real world."

 

The following transcript, from an interview for Permaculture Realized podcast on February 2, 2016, has been lightly edited for corrections and readability.

Levi Meeuwenberg: How do you foresee some of these new approaches starting to be implemented and then get rolled out in the long term?

Albert Bates: If you're a country and you've just signed the agreement along with 195 other countries, the first thing you did to get to that was to come up with an INDC — which is your pledged national commitment — your contribution to reduce climate change. It was a promise. You had to make a pledge. So all the countries that came to Paris had already put in their INDCs and if you add up all the sum of the INDCs we still get to three degrees by mid-century, five to seven degrees by end of century. The ambition was way too low.

We knew that. But don’t fret — that was the opening bid. if you're in a poker game that was the ante. You had to put in that much to get in the game. Coming out of Paris what they put in was what they called “stocktake.” This is a new word for Webster’s. Stocktake is what's going to happen for various parts at three or five year intervals. There are a lot of attempts by oil-based economies like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Malaysia, the ones who have coal and stuff, to have the stocktakes taken out but the stocktakes stayed in the treaty so the Paris agreement requires a revision at close intervals now. There is a science stocktake in 2018, and then the next big one for the pledge system is in 2020. The stocktake which will happen in 2018 will look at the 1.5 goal and see what kinds of INDC revisions would be necessary to get and hold global warming to 1.5 degrees C.

Dare I say? We probably already know the answer. If you know anything about climate science you know that 1.5 is already baked in the cake. There's no way that we're not going to go sailing right through a 1.5 degrees celsius increase in global temperature of the planet. We're on that trajectory and there are so many feedback mechanisms, so many positive forcings which are already in play that 1.5 is a done deal. To try to set such an ambitious goal is ignoring the science to begin with, but I'm fine with high ambition so, sure, set that goal. It's kind of like building the Maginot line. If you're familiar with the history of Europe after WWI the French, who had fought all that trench warfare with the Germans which was really nasty, said we're going to pre-build a defensive line of bunkers – cement, barbed wire, trenches and all that – and massive earthworks all around our border so that we can never have this trench warfare slaughter again. We're going to build this giant wall – kind of like Trump's wall with Mexico – around France.

What happened in the Blitz? Germany just flew right over and dropped paratroopers on the other side. The French Minister of War, André Maginot, was fighting the last war. The Wehrmacht had a responsive strategic design process. They laughed all the way to Paris.

What they're doing now is building a Maginot line on the climate and saying that they're going to hold the line at 1.5. Well, I've got news for you, we're already past 1.5. But that's o.k. because what they're doing in that process is education, an interactive education process. We understand that when we're talking about governments and making them change, they change all the time. There are elections and changes in government and you get crazies in and you get different kinds of things happening, two steps back and one step forward. That's just normal in government. Just look at the difference in Obama in the first term and Obama in the second term in terms of climate change. I think partly that's laid at the feet of John Holdren who's the White House Science Adviser who got to meet with Obama on a regular basis and educate him.

I think that in the future we're going to have the same problem of educating governments over and over again. The weather is doing a lot of that for us so we don't really have to worry that much. The underground cities they built on the Maginot Line might even be good examples for urban design in coming decades, as long as they are not on coasts. But the idea of changing the way we farm is going to have to involve a major shift away from Cargill, Monsanto, and the agro industry and the way things are done now.

How do you make a shift like that? Frankly, I see it through tools like permaculture, home gardens, victory gardens, urban gardens. People looking for food security in these turbulent times when the economy is doing really badly and there issues with energy and the absence of energy after the crash of the fracking industry. So we're going to find ourselves where everybody is going to want food security and to do that they're going to have to learn how and to do it in a way that sequesters carbon. If we can produce electricity using clever stoves and things which sequester carbon as well as boost nutrient density that way — that’s the revolution. That can happen worldwide and the seed for that revolution, the starter in the yogurt, is all these little permaculturists running around like a yogurt starter culture.

A lot of different strategies are around to try to deal with climate and I don't begrudge their particular strategy. I think all of them are needed and I think that one of the things that we are going to see in the future is the idea that Bill McKibben launched in Paris and afterward and we’ll see it coming from him, Naomi Klein, Greenpeace, and others, which is that the new standard is 1.5 degrees by mid-century.

So essentially, the international agreement is to go carbon negative in the second half of the 21st century, which is in the actual language of the treaty – which requires 196 countries to eliminate fossil fuels by around mid-century, maybe a little bit after. I think that the ratcheting process may speed it up because the more we learn about the science and the more weather events happen, the more incentive there will be to ratchet up.

But the slogan that Bill McKibben coined was 'every pipeline, every mine — you said 1.5' and I can hear that chant in the back of my head as companies try to send railcar loads of shale oil through cities or carve new strip mines in the mountains or open new fracked gas wells which have already been leased but have not been drilled: “Stop! Every pipeline, every mine, you said 1.5!”

From a science standpoint it's absolutely impossible to hold to the Paris limits if you open up new fossil fuel mines and pipelines. You cannot have any new ones. You cannot have any more. You should be starting to shut down the ones we have. That's the only way to get there. We saw a lot of Fortune 500 companies signing on to this whole notion of going carbon negative or at least carbon neutral. There were one hundred and fourteen companies that signed the science-based initiative of going completely neutral and several of them have already achieved that. That's actually a coalition between environmentalists and business that's happening so now it's up to the environmentalists to hold the feet of these people to the fire, including the governments. So the protests are completely justified.

I had trouble with a lot of protests earlier because I'm a student of Mahatma Gandhi. I read Mahatma Gandhi when I was a high school student. I read pretty much all of his writings when he was a newsletter editor and his various collected writings so I understood the principles of Satyagraha which is seeking truth through peaceful means. One of those principles is to give your opponent every possible opportunity to correct their actions peacefully before you do anything to obstruct them or otherwise cause them harm – economic harm, I'm not talking about physical harm. When Gandhi would plan a march he would notify the authorities – “here's where we're going to be, come and arrest us if you want” – and when he goes into court (and remember he began as a lawyer in South Africa) he asks the judge to give him the maximum possible sentence. “Let's just go ahead and dispense with the trial, I'm guilty, put me in jail for as long as you want.” That's Satyagraha.

Here we have every pipeline, every mine and the moral justification is now there. Everyone's on notice. Everyone has been notified. There is no excuse now. Everybody has already agreed in principle that this must be done – no new pipelines, no new mines. So I think it's completely within everyone's privilege and in fact their duty to oppose anything new in the way of getting fossil fuels out of the ground.

Levi: What are some of the most effective ways? Let's say that we know that there are existing frack wells nearby, which is the case, should we approach the company, should we approach the government, should we go through legal means, or should we just occupy the space? What approach would you say would be best for getting that message out?

AB: I'm not going to dictate local initiatives. I think that this should come from the locality and everybody can best judge in their own location what is the best strategy. I think it's a little more problematic when you're talking about existing structures because those have to be withdrawn in a gradual way so there's a certain amount of latitude that must be there. I understand that. On the other hand if there's a new one then I think that it's perfectly justified to block the well-drilling rigs. It's perfectly justified to oppose them at every stage. For instance, they have to get state permits in every state to go in and drill. They have to get state permits to use the roadways. They have to have NPDES permits which are pollution discharge permits. All of those are places of entry where citizens and groups can go and make statements at those meetings and even protest those meetings if the state decides to ignore the legal requirement. They're outlaws if they ignore the legal requirement.
What needs to happen is the elevation of general public awareness about what the law now says. We're talking about international law which is the supreme law of the land under the U.S. constitution.

Levi: I hear a lot of talk about renewable energy, solar and all that – maybe too much. People who don't have an understanding of permaculture solutions or more holistic solutions or soil solutions see renewable energy as solving everything in some way. How do you see that being part of the picture?

AB: I spent a lot of my book, The Paris Agreement, on this. I blogged for a year leading up to Paris and took all those blogs and wrote an introduction and did a daily blog while I was in Paris. Then I spent a week or two afterward summarizing, synthesizing, and putting it all together to make the book. I put the book out on December 19th which was seven days after the Paris Climate Conference ended. It included the entire text of the treaty along with the year-long analysis that led up to it and I think the point of the book and what I spent a long time talking about was renewable energy and the myth surrounding renewable energy which I saw a lot of in Paris.

It's kind of this idea, this notion to just take out the dirty, greasy, black gooey stuff, the dirty smelly stuff, and the dirty powdery coal and all that which makes our hands black. We'll get rid of all that dirty stuff and we'll put in this shiny polished stainless steel, poly-composite graphite windmills and solar arrays and thermal mirrors and all these fancy new devices, this whole new tech industry which will suddenly transform the world and employ our entire population and give us clean energy, green growth jobs and so forth.

That's the utopian vision and there's a problem with all utopian visions which is that sooner or later if you try to put them into practice you run into problems with the real world. In the real world there are natural laws and one of those is energy return on energy invested. So we have to look at what is the actual cost in the life cycle of a solar cell or the life cycle of a windmill and how much energy is required to make a windmill? Are there steel components? How was that steel made? Was it made with sunlight? I don't think so. What about aluminum? What about some other fancy composites? What about the silicon wafers in the solar cells? Where did they come from and how were they made? What kinds of facilities do that?

Actually, I have to take an aside here and say that some years back, probably 20 years ago now, Solarex, a big solar company, built the first solar breeder which was a factory in Hyattsville, MD which was solar powered and which made solar cells so that's actually something which can be done. But if you look on the energy return on investment and the life cycle and so forth what you suddenly discover is we have been running on high-entropy, high-return, energy density. For instance, oil and coal and these other dense forms of stored solar energy pack a lot of calories per unit of weight or volume, but took 500 million years of sunlight to make. They're concentrated sunlight which has been stored in the earth.

That was our savings account which we went through in about 200 years. We're now switching over to a checking account, based on daily income – how much sun falls on the planet? Most of that's on the ocean. How much of that can be transformed into useful energy, how much can make liquid fuels? What we find is caloric return per unit weight or volume is much lower, an order of magnitude or more lower than what we were getting from fossil. So it's the first time in history that we're going from a denser form of energy to a less dense form. Every other time we've moved from whale oil to shale oil, from wind from canvas to wind from hydraulics and electromagnets and now we're going back the other way.

There's enormous power stored in ocean waves and tides and things like that. We can and will tap all those things to our benefit but compared to fossil fuels they're going to be a step back. We're actually going to have to contract. The economy is going to have to contract. It already is. What we're seeing now with the broader global economy is a major contraction that's already under way. It's what James Kunstler calls the long emergency. It's going to last a long time and it's going to be in stair steps. It's not going to come all at once.

But if we think that somehow solar power is going to change that trajectory, it's not. We're still going to have to step down. There's a lot of ground to be gained from increased efficiency and from employing low tech solutions and so on. Lifestyle is going to have to shift to reflect that change too. Most people don't understand that.

Personally, I think that megacities are doomed, especially coastal ones. Megacities are based on the import of resources from the periphery to the center. That's going to become much harder when transportation fuels are at much more of a premium. I think that the bioeconomy is the future. We're going to learn to cascade our crops to be able to get ecosystem services from the way in which they are designed and then some food and maybe some fuel and energy from that. Then biochar and carbon, which we're going to put back in the soil, is going to make a reversal in the climate trend and that cycle – actually already – of using bioenergy is seven times more cost-effective from an energy production standpoint than photovoltaics.

If you're going to install photovoltaics in a remote location on a village scale you'll find you'll have seven times more bang for the buck if you go with a biomass kiln and a local crop of food which produces a waste stream for that kiln and the kiln is pyrolytic, it's gasified and so it makes biochar and is therefore a whole business for you. It gives you pharmaceuticals, animal feed and other kinds of things which are of benefit to you. I think that's the future. The problem is that it's a much different future than most people envision and is certainly different than governments coming out of Paris thought was going to happen.

Levi: I would go as far as to say many people can't imagine or have lost this ability to imagine a world that is so vastly different from what it is now. Especially kids nowadays who have access to TV shows and the internet so they don't have to use their imagination as much so I think it withers a bit.

AB: Let me jump in and say something about that. I think that some of the things that people do with permaculture design courses and with introductions to permaculture, and through lectures to the public and so forth, those kinds of entries into what we do in that world are ways of re-educating the population not just to the crisis that we face but also to the things that you can do to make your life better even while the world is undergoing this monumental shift.

I've been teaching this course in Belize for many years. It's the eleventh time we've taught this course at this one farm, an experimental research station in Belize. It is the 50th permaculture design course that I've taught. The thing that I'm getting out of that is that we bring people from North America and Europe into this setting which is a very rural, rustic place. It's the Mayan world. If you go deeply enough into the Yucatan peninsula you find the Mayan world which hasn't changed a lot since Columbus. It's been globalized to a large extent. People wear the same clothes as people in the outside world and they have bicycles and drive cars so the outer things have changed. But the first language is still Mayan. It's still an indigenous population which has indigenous ways. I just attended a funeral ceremony here where I am in the Yucatan right now and it's as much Mayan as it is Catholic.

In the Mayan mountains where we go to the course we're really putting people into a time portal. It's like an adventure where you get to go to a different planet because we're tucked into the foothills of the Mayan mountains two miles up-river from the village of San Pedro, Columbia in southern Belize. You have to get there by an hour in a dugout canoe being poled up river. That's the only way to get there. There's a trail but you probably wouldn't want to try that with a pack, and you still have to ford the river. When you get there, suddenly there's this beautiful sight that's all renewable energy. The food for the course comes from the land every day. For twenty years they've been doing integrated agro-forestry, what the UN calls eco-agriculture, and applied biodiversity. For a quarter of a century really, twenty-six years, they've been there growing organic food and converting citrus and cattle farming to a biologically diverse polyculture. So when you make this trip, when you go through this time portal, you're transported back to a society which existed a thousand years ago and was in complete harmony with the seasons, kept its population within the limits of production of the local watersheds, and had an elegant, simple, wonderfully fruitful life and a community society. You stumble over stones which are parts of old pyramids. This is a long lost city complex of the Maya and was there at its peak a thousand years ago. This is actually the best way to live the future, to see steady-state economies of the past which had it figured out and which actually can change the climate back to the holocene from the anthropocene, given the tools. So I recommend not just our course in Belize which anyone can attend but also other courses in similar settings where there are still indigenous cultures, for a wonderful experience in seeing what the future holds.

Levi: I really appreciate you coming on here and sharing all your great messages, all this information, and spreading it and all that you're doing.

AB: Thanks. It's been great talking to you. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Was the Collapse of the Roman Empire caused by Climate Change?

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on February 8, 2016

fall-of-rome

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The collapse of the Western Roman Empire: was it caused by climate change?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image from the recent paper by Buentgen et al., published on "Nature Geoscience" on February 8, 2016. The red curves are temperature changes reconstructed from tree rings in the Russian Altai (upper curve) and the European Alps (lower curve). Note the remarkable dip in temperatures that took place starting with the 6th century AD. But, by then, the Western Roman Empire was past and gone. Its collapse was NOT caused by climate change. 

The relationship of climate and civilization collapse is a much debated subject. From the recent collapse of the Syrian state to the much older one of the Bronze Age civilization, climate changes have been seen as the culprit of various disasters befalling on human societies. However, an alternative view of societal collapse sees it as the natural ("systemic") result of the declining returns that a society obtains from the resources it exploits. It is the concept termed "diminishing returns of complexity" by Joseph A. Tainter.

On this point, we may say that there may well exist several causes for societal collapse. Either climate change or resource depletion may sufficiently weaken the control structures of any civilization to cause it to fold over and disappear. In the case of the Western Roman Empire, however, the data published by Buentgen et al. completely vindicate Tainter's interpretation of the collapse of the Roman Empire: it was a systemic collapse, it was NOT caused by climate changea. 

We can see that there was a cooling episode that probably affected the whole of Eurasia and that started with the beginning of the 6th century AD.  This period is called LALIA (Late Antiquity Little Ice Age) and it seems to have been stronger than the better known LIA (Little Ice Age) that took place during the 18th and 19th centuries. Apparently, the LALIA was mainly caused by a series of volcanic eruptions that injected large amounts of particulate in the atmosphere; cooling it by reflecting sunlight. Overall, temperatures went down by a couple of degrees in comparison to the time that we call the "Roman Warm Period."

A truly brutal cooling, yes, and it surely had effects on human life, as discussed at length in the paper by Buentgen et al. But it had nothing to do with the fall of the Western Roman Empire whose decline had started at least two centuries before. The Empire started its final disintegration phase with the beginning of the 5th century; when it ceased to be able to garrison the fortifications at the borders. Then, Rome was sacked one first time in 410 AD; and finally destroyed by the Vandals in 455 AD. That was the true end of the Western Empire, even though, for some decades, there were still individuals who claimed the title of Emperors. But all that took place in a period of relatively stable climate, at least from what we can say about the available data. So, the collapse was systemic, related to factors other than climate and, in my opinion, mainly related to the collapse of the Roman financial system, in turn caused by mineral depletion.

But could it be that, after all, there is a correlation between the Roman collapse and climate change? Just it would be the reverse of what it had been sometimes proposed: could the Roman collapse have caused the LALIA cooling (or, at least, contributed to it)? The idea is not farfetched: the population collapse that took place with the fall of the Empire could have led to a considerable level of reforestation of Western Europe, and that would have absorbed CO2 from the atmosphere. That would have been an added factor to volcanic cooling. It is an idea already expressed some time ago by William Ruddiman. It seems to be out of fashion, nowadays, but I think that it should be explored more.

In the end, this story can teach us a lot: first of all, how fragile climate is. In the interpretation by Buentgen et al., just three volcanic eruptions – relatively large ones, but not truly gigantic – were sufficient to cause a two-degree cooling extending all over Eurasia. Think of what could be the effect if something similar were to happen in our times! Then, it shows also how the situation, today, has completely changed. Temperatures have taken a completely different trend with the start of large scale emissions of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Incidentally, these data also confirm the "Hockey Stick" data by Michael Mann and others. Global warming is real, the earth's climate is fragile, and we are in big troubles.

Additional note: The data published in "Nature" generated a truly awful article in the "Daily Express" titled "Mini-ice age 1,500 years ago contributed to fall of Roman Empire". There, they generate an incredible mishmash of the Western and Eastern Empires, showing for instance gladiator games that had ceased to exist at least one century before the LALIA. Then, they say that the 6th century cooling "contributed to the collapse of the Eastern Roman Empire." Which is an interesting extrapolation, since the Eastern Empire didn't collapse until about a thousand years after the LALIA!!  At least, they should go back to junior high school but, on the other hand, think of how they report about climate change: what would you expect from them when they discuss about the Roman Empire?

(h/t Graham Readfearn)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2015: The Year That Changed Everything?

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on December 30, 2015

Recent wildfires in California, photo from the Independent

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There has been no lack of disasters taking place in 2015. Some can be classified as "natural" others as human caused. In all cases, anyway, they are an indication of the stress felt by the ecosystem and by the economic system at the same time. We are, finally, reaching our limits as we knew we had to, from the time when we were warned, in 1972, by the study titled "The Limits to Growth."

But not everything was bad in 2015 and, in this post for the end of the year, let's concentrate on the good things that happened. If we do that, we see that 2015 has been a very special year. Not that any of the big problems we face has been solved; but there is something new going on; something unexpected, but that may give a boost to a new direction that the world may take; a direction that may lead us to a better world. We may be learning something, after all.

So, let me list some of the good things that happened in 2015

– The Papal Encyclical on climate, the "Laudato si'". This has really been something big. For one thing, it was clear from the way it affected the debate. Mostly, climate scientists, and scientists in general, are no-nonsense people, often atheists or agnostics, rarely churchgoers. So, the arrival of the Pope in the debate took them by surprise: "The Pope? What? Does he agree with us? Really? He said that God orders to us to safeguard the creation….. Eh….?" You can't imagine how happy these solemn scientists were; like children receiving a Christmas gift in August! But the main effect of the Pope's encyclical has been on the anti-science camp. They were, clearly, in difficulty. As a reaction, they could have demonized the Pope, saying that he is a communist, or he is possessed by the devil, or something like that. Some weirdos have done exactly that but, by far and large, the mainstream anti-science camp has decided that their best (and probably the only) strategy was to keep a low profile and hope that the "Laudato si'" would be ignored and then forgotten. It wasn't and it won't. The effect of the encyclical has been large on the public's understanding of climate change. It is an effect that's continuing and that can only increase in the future.

– The COP21 climate conference in Paris. I know that many people say that not enough has been obtained, which is true. But it is also true that the conference has been a success mainly in showing the marginality of the anti-science camp. They had spent so much money trying to demonize science and scientists, trying to ridicule climate science, spreading various conspiracy legends and then, what? They found that the delegations of 190 countries in Paris declared that climate change is real, it is human made, and something must be made to stop it. Now, think about that: if you were in their shoes, how would you feel? That's the main reason why the Paris conference was a remarkable success. It was just a first step, of course, but you can't go anywhere without a first step!

– The new perception of the need of clean energy. This year has seen a true explosion in the endorsements of renewable energy. A set of technologies that once were seen as just toys for Green Nerds, now are increasingly seen not just part of the solution of the problem of climate change, but THE solution. Among those who came out strongly in favor of renewable energy in 2015, I can cite Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Klare, Naomi Oreskes, Bill Gates, and, yes, the Pope himself! True, not everyone has understood exactly the terms of the problem. Some, like Bill Gates, still think that renewables need to be substantially improved before being deployed, without realizing how pressing is the need of the renewable transition. Others have understood that energy is the problem, but they picked up the wrong solution: nuclear energy – as James Hansen and others did. Within some limits, it is an understandable mistake on the part of people who are not energy experts, but, at least, they understood the need of producing energy. This is the real change in perception: we are moving from a perception that sees emission reductions as the priority to a perception that sees clean energy production as the priority. If we can manage to produce clean renewable energy at a cost lower than fossil energy, then we'll move to renewables without the need of laws, treaties, and special taxes (and we can do that, already!)

– The collapse of the oil markets. At first sight, low oil prices would seem to be exactly the opposite of what we need to fight climate change. But that's not the case: think that we have been telling people that we need to "leave oil in the ground" without much success, so far. But now low prices are doing the job for us by making extraction unprofitable! The low oil prices of 2015 show the impossibility for the market to keep producing from expensive (and dirty) sources such as shale oil. As a consequence, the shale oil industry giving out its death rattle and we are facing the start of the terminal decline of the world's oil production. That will carry with it the decline of all fossil fuel production. The importance of this event can hardly be underestimated. It means that the decline in emissions is likely to be much more rapid than anything that was even vaguely imagined at the COP21 in Paris and that the scenarios contemplated in the INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) will soon be as obsolete as flying cars and nuclear water boilers. The emission decline could even take the shape of a "Seneca Collapse" that might stop the growth of greenhouse gas concentrations short of the dreaded climate "tipping point". That would surely be a good thing but, of course, a Seneca collapse of the world's energy production would be a major disaster in itself; possibly able to destroy the world's economic system. But there is a middle way: the Seneca effect could help us manage to sharply curtail fossil fuels use, but not so much that we would be left without the resources needed to build a new energy system based on renewables. It is difficult, but not impossible, as shown by quantitative calculations.

Of course, things might go wrong in other ways. For instance, a major war could push up the need of fuels and cause the oil industry to restart extracting resources that a market economy cannot extract. It is possible, indeed, that the current drive for war is the result of exactly this kind of considerations. Nevertheless, war is not unavoidable and, if we manage to avoid it, then 2015 may be remembered as the year when everything changed. A year of hope!

 

 

 

Descent into Darkness: Collapse 2015 in Words & Pictures

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on January 1, 2016

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http://www.socialstudiesforkids.com/graphics/fathertime-babynewyear.jpgCollapse in 2015 is now in the grave, a thing of the past, an artifact of history.  Not to be forgotten though, because of course those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.  Of course, those who do learn from history are doomed to watch others repeat it too.  lol.  Regardless of that, I wanted to chronicle the watershed year of 2015 in Collapse Dynamics, which I have been an active student of for the last 8 years, the last 4 of which have been spent mainly here on the Doomstead Diner.

To do this chronicle, I began it as an audio rant, but along with the other new things and changes that 2016 Collapse will bring, the Diner is expanding our YouTube Channel where you found the Video Collapse Cafes and I Spy Dooms and SNAP Card gourmets in the past.  They are all still there, in a much more organized and user friendly interface now.  The Audio Rants and Audio Collapse Cafe Interviews have been housed on Diner Soundcloud, and will remain there at least for a while, however as we move into 2016 all our media presentations will be published on the Diner YouTube Channel, which can be accessed directly either from the collapsecafe.com URL or the youtube.com/c/doomsteaddiner URL.

In order to spruce up the Rants with Visual input for the viewer, I have begun creating slide shows that will accompany the rants.  My work here at the beginning is rudimentary, video editing is a new skil for me and I am teaching myself as I go.  It will improve, I promise.  This first one I did for the New Year's rant doesn't match the pictures to what I am ranting about, it's just a mostly random selection of photos we used for Thumbnails on the Diner Blog at one time or another, not necessarily in 2015.  However, it will evoke memories of collapse as it has played itself out so far as you listen to the rant.

Since I know there are some non-native speakers of English who read the Diner and who have trouble following my rants because I speak quickly, the full transcript of the Rant is available Inside the Diner.  A short Snippet from the Rant here on the Blog as well:

…It's been a Banner Year for Doomers, 2015 has seen a marked increase in just about all areas of Doom, from the Economy to Geopolitics & escalating Warfare to the ever deteriorating Climate Problems. In fact, there are so many fucking Doom Stories from 2015 that I doubt I can cover them all here, no matter how long I run on this rant. However, I will endeavor to run very long and you can listen while you recover from your Hangover on New Year's Day-Morning. LOL.

2015 Doom began with a BANG, with the crash in Oil Prices starting around November-December of 2014, just as my good friend Steve from Virginia of Economic Undertow predicted with the Triangle of Doom. However, that early crash was nothing compared to what has taken place through the rest of 2015, we are now down to a $34 Handle and our good friends at the Squid are predicting $20 handles too! “Lower for Longer” is the Battle Cry in the Energy industry these days, and the big question is who can withstand the low prices the longest here before they finally go BK, unable to access more credit to roll over the mountain of debt already accumulated here?

Rumour is of course that it's all the fault of the Saudis, they are going to keep pumping no matter how low the demand in order to drive everyone else in the Oil extraction biz…OUTTA BIZ! If that was the goal, they have already been quite successful with it, as the Frackers over here shut down one drilling rig after another and Venezuela itself has basically shut down.

While 2015 certainly saw accelerating Collapse in many areas, 2016 promises to be even more eventfull, "Doom on Steroids" if you will.  Difficult as it was to keep up with the Tsunami of Collapse stories in 2015, I suspect 2016 will be even more difficult.  Here on the Doomstead Diner Blog & Forum, Diner You Tube and on our associated other Collapse Information Dispersal websites, we will endeavor to keep the readers, viewers and listeners abreast of the latest developments.  Visit our collapse.global Portal for quick access to many collapse information sources with a quick poke to your Smart Phone screen. 🙂

DOOMSTEAD DINER.  #1 FOR DOOM ON THE NET

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

COP21 was a FRAUD!

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on December 21, 2015

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We are on track for 8 to 10 degrees Celsius GATR and Paris COP 21 was a fraud

This is the most comprehensive and scientifically honest discourse about our climate future that I have encountered so far: http://www.apollo-gaia.org/harsh-realities-of-now.html

Dr David Wasdell is an impeccable source. The evidence and reasoning he employed, by summarising data and peer-reviewed research from many other scientists, demonstrated beyond any shadow of a doubt that the massively underestimated conclusions of the IPCC were politically watered down deceit. It enabled false (but more politically palatable) assumptions to be adopted by the COP participants and meaningless goals to be pursued (which are not binding anyway). All in all, those international toings-and-froings have been a complete joke. James Hansen called the COP21 shenanigans “half assed and half baked” http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/cp/climate/2015-paris-climate-talks/hansen

There was one benefit of COP21 however. The delusion that we still have a carbon “budget” to burn and that we still have some wiggle room to avoid disaster, does justify ongoing COP junkets for the COP junkies for next few years, before the airline industry collapses from financial Armageddon / Hi-NES depletion. May as well keep partying on the deck of the Titanic, while encouraging the crew to use chewing gum and spit to patch the gaping hole in the hull.

Dr Wasdell mentioned that an 8 degree Celsius global average temperature rise is a conservative estimate and 10 degrees GATR may be more likely.

We could face a global wipeout on the scale of the Permian-Triassic extinction, in which about 70% of land species and 95% of marine species perished. It is important to understand why the die-off was (and will be) worse in the oceans. Readers will be aware that many phytoplankton species require calcareous shells and ocean acidification can wipe them out. They form a large part of the base of the oceanic food pyramid. Less commonly appreciated is the physical fact that cold water contains more dissolved gases than warm water. This is why the cold waters near the poles, being oxygen rich, can support abundant marine life (in areas where there are also abundant nutrients). Warming oceans will liberate previously dissolved CO2 into the atmosphere, another adverse feedback loop which will aggravate global warming. Warm oceans will also contain very little dissolved oxygen, leading to the anoxic deaths of the majority of oceanic species. Anoxic oceans full of dead organic matter can promote the proliferation of bacteria which generate the poisonous gas hydrogen sulphide, the liberation of which can kill not only marine organisms, but many land organisms when released into the atmosphere.

If it was the intent of homo stupidus to wreak ecological devastation which will persist for millions of years, we could not have done a better job.

Ten degrees GATR will certainly lead to an ice free world, with a very high eventual likelihood of human extinction (but not as soon as 2030 though). Unlike Guy McPherson and his flunkies, I do not regard NTHE as an absolute certainty and have outlined a possible survival strategy for a small number of humans:

https://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/6469302-a-critique-of-some-of-guy-mcpherson-s-views-and-certain-nbl-hangers-on

In that essay, I tried to promote Guy as the possible initiator of such a survival project, to offer him a way out of the hole he had dug for himself. However rather than rise to the challenge, he continued to reject any possibility of human survival, to remain a prophet of doom and the titular head of a nihilistic death cult.

If anything, knowing that we face unstoppable horrific climate chaos should concentrate our efforts to plan for a difficult future now, while we still have some time and resources. A number of geographic pockets around the world will still be able to support comfortable human life for some decades to come. Those who can should seize the opportunity.

My message to everyone? Try to live for as long as you can, aim for the best quality of life you can, and do so without trampling over others. Understanding our imminent demise should, if anything, enhance our appreciation for life and motivate us to derive whatever joy we can, while we can, perhaps by engaging in random acts of kindness now and then. Stay away from those who choose to wallow in the mire of abject hopelessness and misery. Avoid those who prefer to curse the darkness rather than light a candle.

Wishing everyone a happy pagan summer* solstice.

Geoffrey Chia, 21 December 2015

*winter in the Northern hemisphere

…an idiot is an idiot is an idiot

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Published on the Cassandra's Legacy on December 16, 2015

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It was yesterday that I gave a talk on climate at a meeting in Florence. It was a rather formal meeting, in the "Aula Magna" of the University of Florence, and my talk was part of a multidisciplinary series of lectures. I gave my talk  to a public mainly composed of faculty members, although only some of them were physical scientists.

It was not a specialized talk, but I tried to explain the basic elements of what we know about the earth's climate. How more than a hundred years of research has led to developing a new understanding of what makes climate change. I said that it is a true scientific revolution, on a par with several others as – say – cosmology; linking to a talk given just before by a colleague.

I showed data about how, over the geological eras, greenhouse gases have been the main element (although not the only one) determining the earth's surface temperature. And I showed how temperatures are rapidly rising now as a result of human-generated carbon emissions. I described the risks we are facing, and the importance of acting as soon as possible. And I showed my own work on modeling the energy transition to renewables.

And that was it. I received some applause, then the conference went on. Later on, there was the coffee break; the speakers and the public collected in the open air, in the courtyard of the University's central building. And, there, someone, a colleague, patted me on the shoulder. He smiled at me and he said, "See, Ugo, how cold is it today? Don't you think we need some global warming?"

Sometimes, I have lost my temper in these occasions. And they tell me that when I truly lose my temper I am not nice – which I think it is the way things should be. This time, however, I just smiled and I moved onward. But words were ringing in my head, "an idiot is an idiot is an idiot", something that Gertrude Stein could have said hadn't she been thinking of roses, instead.

You could say, "it was just a joke." Yes, but imagine that you were a surgeon, and you gave a talk at a conference on  – say – childhood cancer. Then, at the coffee break, a colleague of yours pats on your shoulder and says, "See how many children are there? Isn't it good that some are killed by tumors?"

An idiot is an idiot is an idiot. The problem is that there isn't just one of them.

 

 

Cool Buildings

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Publishes on the Peak Surfer on November 22, 2015

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"Never live with a TV, never have keys or locks, never have debt, never own anything costing more than $1000.– Ianto Evans"

 
 

Twenty years ago many of the North American pioneers of strawbale, cob, timber frame, round pole and other forms of “natural building” came together up a remote mountain canyon in New Mexico at a lovely old log mansion called Black Range Lodge. The Lodge and the small hamlet of Kingston, populated with many lovely homes of strawbale and cob, are nestled in the foothills of the 3 million acre Gila Wilderness, a taste of the Old West halfway between Truth or Consequences and Silver City. The hostess was Catherine Wanek, author of The New Strawbale Home and several other great books, whose family owned the Lodge, and who with her partner, Pete Fust, the king of "tractor cob," tried to build interest in these new versions of ancient practices. 

We first met Catherine when she came to videotape our strawbale construction course at The Farm in 1996, with Jon and Mitzi Ruiz who had been sent to help us by Matts Myhrmann and Judy Knox at Out-On-Bale in Tucson. At that Black Range meeting the year before, Catherine had coined the term “natural building” to distinguish these emerging styles and philosophy from “green buildings,” “smart buildings” or other styles just coming into popular use. 

Natural buildings don't require gadgets or energy systems. They can be built with tools your grandparents would have recognized, or sometimes with no tools at all. They can be built without a mortgage. They can endure long past the lifetime of many building products and styles today, and when they are no longer safe or useful to live in, they compost back into the ground leaving no toxic residues.

 

What are Natural Buildings? 
 
Marcos Grossman, who sponsors the private Facebook group, Natural Builders (with 16,845 members), defines them this way:

"A natural building involves a range of building systems and materials that place major emphasis on sustainability. Ways of achieving sustainability through natural building focus on durability and the use of minimally processed, plentiful or renewable resources, as well as those that, while recycled or salvaged, produce healthy living environments and maintain indoor air quality. Natural building tends to rely on human labor, more than technology. As Michael G. Smith observes, it depends on 'local ecology, geology and climate; on the character of the particular building site, and on the needs and personalities of the builders and users.'

“The basis of natural building is the need to lessen the environmental impact of buildings and other supporting systems, without sacrificing comfort or health. To be more sustainable, natural building uses primarily abundantly available, renewable, reused or recycled materials. The use of rapidly renewable materials is increasingly a focus. In addition to relying on natural building materials, the emphasis on the architectural design is heightened. The orientation of a building, the utilization of local climate and site conditions, the emphasis on natural ventilation through design, fundamentally lessen operational costs and positively impact the environmental. Building compactly and minimizing the ecological footprint is common, as are on-site handling of energy acquisition, on-site water capture, alternate sewage treatment and water reuse."


California bambusero Kevin Rowell says,

“Natural Builders collaborate with artists, building professionals, and individuals in a range of fields, from the creation of ecological spaces, to the development of new materials, to the understanding and improvement of vernacular building techniques.”


Last month some of the world's most accomplished natural builders returned to Black Range Lodge for a 20th anniversary celebration and colloquium. Their names are too many to recite here, but many are pictured or mentioned in posts by Ziggy Liloia and Eva Edelson. There are photos of ourselves and Ziggy on Eva's site, making corn tortillas on the Rocket-Fired Griddle Oven designed and built by Flemming Abrahamson of Fornyet Energi and Max Edleson of Firespeaking.

The breadth of creative building styles was amazing. Hands-on workshops, powerpoint presentations, films and discussion groups showed us the latest in strawbale, cob, adobe, earthbag, cordwood, timber frame, greywater systems, rainwater harvesting, pallet truss and wallboard construction, papercrete moldings, treehouses, bendy-board, round pole, stone, bamboo, ovens, tamped earthen floors, mixed and troweled earth and lime plasters, tadalac waterproof finish coats, painted aliz, Japanese, Nepalese, Ecuadoran, Taiwanese techniques, old English tudor restorations, living roofs and integrated food systems. Even many of the songs sung around the campfire were informative as well as hilarious.

A sampling of our notes:

“Above all, less.” — Ianto Evans

Ianto's rules about houses: Never live with a TV, never have keys or locks, never have debt, never own anything costing more than $1000.

“The finer the edge, the clearer the transmission of your body and your craft.” — Robert LaPorte on sharpening tools.

Before applying clay to waddle, cob or plaster, Japanese master craftsmen ferment the clay with chopped straw for one month to one year. It makes for better drying without cracking, good adhesion, and ability to absorb shock.

Lime is active when it is wet. Keep everything dry and tools clean and you won't get hurt. Someone just coming to a site to volunteer should start by going around and cleaning everything they can find. Keep the site and the tools clean at each stage of the process.

SunRay Kelley on his famous Yoga Studio door: “I don't think there is any door in the world that compares to it. It is the door we all come into the world through.”

“Wind swirls, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes — the last buildings standing are the round ones. Every time you build with parallel lines you are just setting up dominoes.” – SunRay Kelley

“Proprietary Refractory Mix” — How Keiko Denzer describes cob on construction permit applications.


Our small contribution to the colloquium consisted of a couple of “soapbox” sessions on using biochar in natural buildings to sequester carbon, clean indoor air, and provide other useful functions. Part of our process is helping others to understand the key difference between labile and recalcitrant carbon.

Labile carbon

 Soil organic matter is made up of different pools which vary in their turnover time or rate of decomposition. The labile pool, which turns over relatively rapidly (< 5 years), results from the cycling of fresh residues such as plant material (leaf litter, dead roots and branches) and living organisms (earthworms, beetles, animal scat, bacteria and fungi). This is normal organic decomposition. The byproducts are gases such as carbon dioxide and methane – which waft up into the atmosphere adding to the greenhouse effect for a few years before raining back down on land and sea – and organic soil carbon, which cycles to feed microbiota, plants and animals such as ourselves

More resistant labile residues are physically or chemically protected and are slower to turn over (5-40 years). Protected humus, peat, and decay-resistant woody biomass falls into this category. Much of this labile carbon pool is necessary to provide free carbon for the formation of new growth. So, for instance, if the stalks of corn are consistently removed or burned in the field after harvesting the grain, after some time the soil in the field will be too low in carbon to produce tall corn, even with chemical fertilizer. The traditional method would be to graze cattle, who are woody-biomass ruminants by nature (not grain or grass feeders) on the corn stover, and the manures they deposit would contain all of that carbon, processed into a form that will be most easily used by the soil microbes and available to next season's plants.

The labile carbon pool has been to shown to be influenced by the retention of stubble residues, with a decline in nitrogen supply of up to 4 kg/ha/day on removal of these residues. Green manure crops and phase pastures are an ideal way of providing soil with a ‘pulse’ of labile carbon that can have benefits over several years, but in most Australian farming systems crop roots, stubble and animal by-products are the usual carbon sources. In tropical soils, increasing amounts of labile carbon have been associated with higher grain yields.

– Fran Hoyle (Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia), Daniel Murphy (The University of Western Australia) and Jessica Sheppard (Avon Catchment Council), soilquality.org.au

Recalcitrant carbon

There is a form of carbon that makes up the stable soil organic matter pool which can take hundreds to millions of years to turn over. Recalcitrant carbon in the form of man-made biochar can be found dating back 8000 years in the Central Amazon and was a key component of the Terra Preta soils that enabled the rise of great civilizations in the Americas before European contact. The oldest known forms of recalcitrant carbon trace back long before the ascent of man, to the earliest forests on Earth, 500 million years ago. For a form of carbon to remain that long undigested by microbes, it must really be recalcitrant!

Infilling straw foundation with pumice
– could as easily be biochar

This form of carbon is key to understanding the importance of biochar and its potential to reverse catastrophic climate change and get us back within a safe operating boundary on the carbon cycle. We can transform a fraction of the labile carbon, made available to us in abundance by photosynthesis, into recalcitrant carbon. We can even do that while co-generating electricity, cooking, or otherwise tapping the heat of the pyrolytic process. Using these permaculture techniques, we can intercept the flow of carbon from earth to sky (and thence, in part, to ocean as rain) and instead hold that carbon in the topsoil for thousands of years, where it works to help plants grow by storing water, nutrients and beneficial biological allies, rather than as building blocks for cellular development of the plants.

To change the direction we are headed, we need to take concentrations of carbon in the atmosphere (and other trace gases that also trap heat) back to pre-industrial levels. We are now one degree warmer and the atmosphere contains 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide. Paleoclimatology tells us that 440 parts per million should translate to 7 to 10 degrees of warming, so we know that is baked into the cake at this point, we just haven't allowed time for equilibrium to be achieved. We'll speak more to this in forthcoming posts from the Paris climate talks. How do we get from 400 or 440 ppm back to 350 or 260 ppm? Recalcitrant carbon.

 
Changing agriculture may or may not be enough to reverse climate change. That is a big claim, and while we respect many of those who make it, we question whether labile carbon sequestration is enough to do the trick. We think recalcitrant carbon is more than enough, but why limit our pallet to agricultural operations? Biochar applied to living roofs makes them more drought and flood resistant; applied to plasters allows them to absorb pollen and pollutants while moderating humidity of indoor spaces; applied to stains provides color while preserving woods and reducing mold and mildew in closets; and applied anywhere locks up carbon for the life of the building and then beyond, for thousands of years.

 
In a recent post to our Facebook page, Michael Tobis commented:

I haven't hear the words "labile" and "recalcitrant" in this context before, but that seems about right. Restoring preindustrial soil works out to be woefully inadequate to getting CO2 back under control. 

If we could contrive to have ten or twenty times the natural soil that would be another matter. I would love to have an idea whether this is possible. But I am finding it hard to engage soil experts in the question of whether and how that would be possible. …

A lot of people think agriculture is the key carbon problem. It all comes down to food in the end of course, but as someone who is now happily meat and dairy free except on rare occasions, I am not worried about the food supply as such. People are starving due to concentration of wealth, which leads to excess production of luxury goods at the expense of basic foods for all. It is not due to a physical incapacity to produce enough food. 

But the carbon problem is about new (OK, well, ancient but long-buried) fossil carbon suddenly injected into the biosphere. If there's a solution to rolling the problem back (rather than just slowing the ratcheting up) it has two parts 1) pulling the extra carbon out of the air (or ocean) and 2) putting it somewhere. No matter how good we get at part 1, it's no help without part 2.

We agree with what was said by Michael, and we would add this: human civilization is already in massive “overshoot” of CO2 emissions to the tune of some 1380 GtCO2 added to the atmosphere after we passed the critical point at around 330 ppm where we guaranteed eventual warming of 2 degrees.  This carbon debt is currently increasing at a rate of about 40 GtCO2 per year pushing us further into climate debt and higher up the thermometer. The UN targets for Paris propose an emissions allowance of a further 950 GtCO2 by the end of the century (about 1 trillion tons), which could push temperatures to 5 degrees by then, and much higher later when equilibrium is reached. It would be game over for mammals such as ourselves on this planet.

We need to reduce concentrations, not merely slow emissions. We have to go to zero and then beyond. By 2050 at the earliest and 2070 at the latest, concentrations need to have come back to 330 parts per million. We have only a few decades to get that much into the ground.

The suite of carbon farming tools can, taken to scale, account for 50 GtC/yr removal annually. Biochar (which could be coming from ethically managed biomass energy systems) is 10 to 20 percent of that and it is recalcitrant; integrated grasslands, agroforestry and land management practices make up the rest, and although made of labile, they are capable of pushing the cycle longer than 5 years — out to several decades, which is what we need right now. A universal overnight change of agriculture and energy systems alone could remove 1400 GtC from the atmosphere in 28 years, although it will not scale that quickly, but 50 years is certainly within the realm of possibility. One way to make it go faster, and last longer, is to find more applications for biochar.
Biochar is the latest tool in the natural builders' toolbox. Returning after a week at the Colloquium, we got this message from someone who had also attended:

Tonight I snuggled with my boys and said prayers as usual. Tonight my 4th grader Alex said, "If I was running for President I would make sure that everybody supported the biochar solution. And that everybody also supported natural building solutions." Yeah! Maybe you should focus on speaking to the younger generations! Their time is NOW!

 

Collapse Cafe 11/22/2015: Collapse Prioritization

gc2Off the cameras and microphones of Nicole Foss, Gail Tverberg, Steve Ludlum, Norman Pagett, Monsta & RE

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Aired on the Doomstead Diner on November 24, 2015

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A great vidcast this time with guests Nicole Foss of The Automatic Earth, Gail Tverberg of Our Finite World, Steve Ludlum of Economic Undertow and Norman Pagett, author of The End of More.

Discussion of recent issues in Energy, Geopolitics, Economics & Climate, with an effort to examine where our efforts need to be focused first in trying to at least ameliorate, if not resolve our problems.

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Also, don't miss the latest Rant!!!

A Tsunami of Human Overshoot

Brace for impact: Super El Niño

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on November 20, 2015, and on Peak Resources

Source: Climate Central, 2015

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As I have mentioned in a previous post, 2015/16 El Niño period have shown signs of becoming stronger than the devastating 1997/98 El Niño. Now weekly measurements are showing that it indeed has passed the record high of 1997/98 with temperatures in the central Pacific of 3°C above normal. November is likely to be strongest month of the El Niño season that lasts until spring next year.

Source: Great Barrier Reef Marine Park

 

The ongoing El Niño has already caused a number of serious impacts globally. For example, warmer waters have lead to major coral bleaching events and according to the UN, 11 million children are at risk from hunger, disease and lack of water in eastern and southern Africa, while 2.3 million people in Central America will need food aid as El Niño exacerbates a prolonged drought.

 

Regional Impacts


South East Asia: Dryer conditions in Southeast Asia has helped fuel massive peatland wildfires in Indonesia. This has caused dense haze to cover many parts of Indonesia and neighbouring countries with serious health impacts for local populations and has released a huge amount of greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere, making Indonesia a major contributor to climate change.


South Asia: Lack of precipitation in India due to changes in the southwest monsoon has also caused dryer conditions and risk of drought with potentially serious impacts on farmers and subsistence livelihoods. Especially since India suffered a deficient monsoon, lack of precipitation, last year as well. Meanwhile in Myanmar (Burma) a Tropical Storm drenched the western region and caused a massive landslide. More than 17,000 homes were destroyed, 46 people were killed, and hundreds of thousands of people were affected by the storm.


Southern Africa: A number of countries in southern Africa are reporting below average rainfall leading to drought conditions and fears of food insecurity. South Africa is in the midst of its worst drought since 1982, with 2.7 million households facing water shortages and farmers that cannot plant crops because of lack of precipitation. Some cities have implemented water restrictions, drastically reducing the amount of water residents can use. Regional prices for staple foods like maize meal, bread, eggs and chicken are up several percentage points. “When the maize crop goes down, the circumstances for social unrest go up … This is exactly how the Arab spring in the Middle East started,” said Louis Meintjes, president of the Transvaal Agriculture Union.


South America: Ecuador and Peru has suffered from flooding, extensive erosion, mudslides with loss of lives and infrastructure as well as damage to food supplies. Peru has declared a state of emergency as the country prepares itself for the worst weather system in over 60 years. Eastern Brazil is experiencing a major drought, driven by population pressure and deforestation, that could be worsened by dryer El Niño conditions. Satellite data shows the southeast of Brazil losing 56 trillion liters of water in each of the past three years – more than enough to fill Lake Tahoe. Water rationing, power blackouts and empty reservoirs in parts of the country have become a reality. More than 11,000 forest fires have been observed in the Amazonas province of Brazil this year, a 47% increase over the same period last year, according to the National Institute for Space Research. The storms that usually keep the jungles of southern Mexico and Central America wet shift northward to the southern US during strong El Niño winters. According to the World Food Program, 3.5 million people in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador need food aid due to drought and crop failures.

North America: According to NOAA, almost 95% of U.S. coral reefs will have been exposed to ocean conditions that can cause corals to bleach by the end of the year. El Niño has also contributed to a very active tropical cyclone season in the Western North Pacific and Eastern North Pacific. Hurricane Patricia, which made landfall in Mexico on 24 October, was reportedly the most intense tropical cyclone in the western hemisphere ever recorded. While category 5 Hurricane Patricia weakened rapidly after hitting the rugged terrain along Mexico’s Pacific coast, remnants of the storm combined with other weather systems over the Gulf of Mexico to produce heavy downpours and widespread flooding in Texas and Louisiana


 

El Niño conditions and disease risk

The development of these conditions has important implications for global public health. Multiple epidemiological studies have linked El Niño events with increased incidence of disease outbreaks.

 


 

Disease

Region

Climatic influence

Cholera

Great Lakes region, Bangladesh, India (coastal), Sri Lanka, Peru

Warmer water temperatures promote bacteria proliferation; flooding causes contamination of water sources.

Dengue

Indonesia, Thailand, Pacific Islands, Australia (Queensland), Mexico, United States (southern), Colombia, Ecuador (coastal)

Water storage promotes mosquito vector breeding; elevated temperatures reduce the incubation period.Elevated rainfall promotes mosquito breeding.

Hantavirus

China (eastern), United States (southwest)

Elevated rainfall increases food availability for rodents which expands populations and may promote contact with humans.

Leishmaniasis

Brazil (eastern), Costa Rica, Colombia

Warmer temperatures or dry conditions may favor sand fly vectors or contribute to waning human immunity (e.g., via malnutrition or temporarily suppressing disease transmission).

Malaria

China (Anhui Province), India/Pakistan (Punjab), Sri Lanka, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela

Elevated rainfall promotes mosquito vector breeding and survival.

Plague

Madagascar, United States (western)

Heavy rains increase food availability for populations of susceptible rodents; cooler temperatures may increase infectious flea abundance.

Rift Valley Fever

East Africa

Flooding of dry mosquito vector habitats promotes hatching of infected eggs, vector breeding and survival.

Respiratory Illness

Southeast Asia/Indonesia

forest fires cause air pollution that may increase risk of respiratory infection

Adapted from Chretien et al. (2015)

A Human Tsunami of Overshoot

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Aired on the Doomstead Diner on November 13, 2015

 

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By now, everyone who follows the Collapse blogs knows about the escalating Refugee crisis in Europe, as desperate Syrians and Afghanis attempt to escape War Zones for a new life in the Promised Lands of Sweden and Germany.

Already, with barely the first ripple of this wave rolling in, communities from Kos & Lesbos in the Greek Islands right up to the border between Mother Russia and Norway north of Murmansk and north of the Arctic Circle are being overwhelmed by a HUMAN WAVE.

To date, only a few hundred thousand have begun the migration to GTFO of Dodge before it is too late, but for most it is already too late.  The Borders are closing and the local populations becoming less accepting by the day of the thousands crossing their borders looking just for a meal to eat and peace in their lives.  They are sacrificing everything they have, all they have ever known for the chance to make it to the Promised Land.  They have NOTHING LEFT TO LOSE.  They know they are dead if they stay where they lay.  So move they will, en masse here.

For those on the receiving end, they have EVERYTHING TO LOSE.  Their peaceful lives to begin with, but eventually an existential battle for survival.

This year to date in the Refugee Crisis is not the End of it.  It is not even the Beginning of the End.  It is only the End of the Beginning.  Thank you once again Winston Churchill.

If you like Happy Endings, don't listen to this rant.  It will not make you happy.

http://usherald.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/refugees.jpg

 

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Even if they had food enough, they don't have the infrastructure necessary to handle so many coming in at once. The Finns are talking about using Conex shipping containers for housing refugees this witer in Finland, one hopes with some insulation added and a wood pellet stove for heating. However, what are they using for Toilet facilities in these instant ghetto communities? What is the water supply for the community? Who is hauling out the solid waste of water bottles and MRE cans and paper plates and plastic forks and spoons? Who pays for all of this and with what working money?

This crisis is already here, even without a global food deficit, and it is not going to get any better next year. Measures will be taken to try and close off borders, which will become increasingly harder to enforce and increasingly more violent. Refugee camps will be attacked and set on fire, as has already occurred in Sweden. There will be pileups of refugees in countries with very porous borders like Turkey, which again is already beyond capacity for handling the flow. It's a Human Tsunami of Overshoot, and the Wave hasn't even crested yet…

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Can Peak Oil Save Us From Climate Change?

limitsgc2Off the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Resource Crisis on October 8, 2015

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"Peak Oil will save us from Climate Change:" a meme that never went viral

The idea that peak oil will save us from climate change has been occasionally popping up in the debate, but it never really gained traction for a number of good reasons. One is that, in many cases, the proponents were also climate science deniers and that made them scarcely credible. Indeed, if climate change does not exist (or if it is not caused by human activities), then how is it that you are telling us that peak oil will save us from it? Add to this that many hard line climate science deniers are also peak oil deniers (since, as well known, both concepts are part of the great conspiracy), then, it is no surprise that the meme of "peak oil will save us" never went viral.

That doesn't mean that we shouldn't ask the question of whether we have sufficient amounts of fossil fuel to generate a truly disastrous climate change. The debate on this point goes back to the early 2000s. At the beginning, the data were uncertain and it was correctly noted that some of the IPCC scenarios overestimated what we are likely to burn in the future. But, by now, I think the fog has cleared.  It is becoming increasingly clear that fossil fuel depletion is not enough, by far, to save us from climate change.

Nevertheless, some people still cling to the old "peak oil will save us" meme. In a recent post on "Energy Matters", Roger Andrews argues that:

All of the oil and gas reserves plus about 20% of the coal reserves could be consumed without exceeding the IPCC’s trillion-tonne carbon emissions limit.

Now, that sounds reassuring and surely many people would understand it in the sense that we shouldn't worry at all about burning oil and gas. Unfortunately, that's just not true and Andrews' statement is both overoptimistic and misleading. One problem is that the "2 degrees limit" is a last ditch attempt to limit the damage created by climate change, but there is no certainty that staying beyond it will be enough to prevent disaster. Then, there is a problem with Andrew's use of the term "reserves," to be understood as "proven reserves". Proven reserves include only those resources that are known to exist and to be extractable at present; and that's surely much less than all what could be extracted in the future. The parameter that takes into account also probably existing resources is called "Ultimate Recoverable Resources" or URRs

So, let's consider a world fossil URR estimate that many people would consider as "pessimistic," the one by Jean Laherrere that I already discussed in a previous post. It turns out that we have enough oil and gas that, together, they can produce enough CO2 to reach the 2 degrees limit; even though, maybe, not more. There follows that, if we really wanted to burn all the oil and gas known to be extractable, to stay withing the limit we would need to stop all carbon burning; starting from tomorrow! Not an easy thing to do, considering that coal produces more than 40% of the energy that powers the world's electrical grid and, in some countries, much more than that. It is true that coal is the dirtiest of the three fossil fuels and must be phased out faster than oil and gas, but the consumption of all three must go down together, otherwise it will be impossible to remain under the limit.

In the end, we have here one more of the many illusions that surround the climate issue; one that could be dangerous it were to spread. However, in addition to the other problems described here, Andrew's post falls in the same trap of many previous attempts: it uses the data produced by climate science to try to demonstrate its main thesis, but only after having defined climate science as "Vodoo Science." No way: this is not a meme that will go viral.

Stewards of the earth: a role for humankind

Gaia_Mother_Earthgc2Off the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Resource Crisis on September 28, 2015

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This post was inspired by a meeting held last week in Florence on the subject of the Pope's climate encyclical, and, in particular, by the presentation given there by Father Bernardo. prior of the San Miniato church. I had been thinking about the relation of religion and the environment for some time and, as a comment, I reproduce below a text that I wrote on the interpretation of an ancient Sumerian myth that, in my opinion, describes an ancient ecological catastrophe, not unlike the one we are facing nowadays. Many elements of the ancient Sumerian religion have survived through the millennia and are still with us; in particular the concept that humans have both power and responsibility: they are there to serve the creation, not to use it for their purposes. (h/t Antonella Giachetti)

When I started my career in scientific research, I could hardly have imagined that the Catholic Pope would, one day, teach to scientists (and not just to them) how to do their job. And yet, it seems that we have arrived exactly to this point.

The attempts performed so far to settle the debate on the various disasters befalling on us (and that we ourselves created) have led to nothing. For how many decades have we been trying to get an agreement to avoid the climate change disaster? Now we are putting our residual hopes on the Paris conference of this year, but do you really think that a group of politicians and bureaucrats dressed in dark suits will be able to save the planet?

What we are seeing, instead, is the utter failure of a way of thinking that we call sometimes "positivism" that has its origins in the 19th century with thinkers such as Condorcet, Saint Simon, Comte, and others. At that time, it seemed to be a good idea to use the reason and science to settle all questions. Maybe a good idea, but, in practice, it doesn't work. We know everything about what's happening and why. It is all scientific method and logic. And, yet, the message doesn't pass; we keep destroying everything, including ourselves.

Pure reason doesn't tell us that we should do something to keep alive the other species sharing the earth with us. Pure reason has led us to such absurdity as believing that individual egoism is the best way to manage the earth's commons (this idea is a kind of religion, but an evil one). Pure reason turns the ecosystem into a giant supermarket where you don't even have to pay for what you get (as long as there remains something to get).

We need to take a different view. A view that doesn't see humans as the owners (or perhaps parasites) of the planet, but as stewards of the earth. A view that tells us that humans have a responsibility toward the planet. Without such a view, we'll keep behaving like bacteria in a Petri dish; unworthy of creatures said to have been created "in the image and the likeness of God". I think you don't have to be Christian to take this attitude, and, likely, not even religious or a believer in a transcendent God. But I think you have to have at least a feeling that there exists something, out there, that goes beyond the mere satisfaction of personal desires. It is not even a question of survival, more a question of dignity for humankind.

This is an old idea, the idea that humans are not here to be the masters, but as stewards of the planet on which they live. It goes back to the ancient Sumerians, and, below, I report a paper that I wrote about an ancient Sumerian myth that may describe a plight similar to the one we are facing now.

The Vicar Visits Congress

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Big Newz from last week besides the endless stream of Refugee stories was the visit by His Holiness, Vicar of Christ on Earth, Pope Francis to the Hallowed Halls of Congress.

The VoCoE has been making a lot of Headlines lately, a couple of months ago he issued out an Encyclical "Laudato si", which translates from Latin as "Praise be to you".  Basically his Popeness was encouraging the flock to take better care of the Earth, and also to do a better job of sharing the wealth of the Planet.

1. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.[1]

 

2. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.

The share the wealth thing didn't play too well with right wing think tanks however.  From the Gatestone Institute International Policy Council:

  • Some high-profile commentators think they smell a Marxist clothed in white papal robes, who dreams of redistributing the world's wealth. Pope Francis insists that he has little interest in Marxism and that his political advocacy against materialism, capitalism, greed and idolatry are largely religious in nature. However, the flavor of some of his statements might suggest otherwise.

  • The Pope also knows that the UN is poised to strong-arm member nations to sign on to an impossible globalist agenda that will require a total shift of the world's wealth, and a restructuring of international politics and economics with a one-world government and a universal religion at the steering wheel.

  • Even to the Pope's admirers, that sounds a less like peace and love and more like a utopian totalitarian nightmare.

OMFG!!!!  THE POPE IS A COMMIE!

Not to mention he also wants a One World Goobermint with the Holy Roman Catholic Church in charge again!

Now, anybody who gets the righty think tanks in such a tizzy gets a thumbs up from me for that, and overall I do support the agenda of His Holiness on these issues.  However, I do have a few issues with exactly how serious he is in terms of doing more than just jawboning.

With that in mind, here's the Pope Rant:

Snippet:

The fact religion is becoming more prominent in the political environment is a disturbing, if not unexpected outcome. Much of the popular sentiment against the refugees stems from the fact they are by and large overwhelmingly Muslim. The Hungarians for instance have explicitly stated they will only take Christian refugees, although I don't know how you can determine this with folks leaving war zones with no documentation. Who would you call to find out if they attended Sunday Church services recently?

 

There is also a huge cultural divide between the more fundamentalist Muslim sects and Western culture and ideas about women's rights, standards of dress and so forth. Polygamy is still acceptable in many Muslim nations, and child brides are fairly common as well. Arranged marriages rather than the Western ideal of Romantic Love forming the basis for a marriage also are common. To the Westerner, this all seems positively medieval. To the Muslim Fundamentalist, its positively lurid that women are allowed to walk around with short skirts and hit the beaches in itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikinis. You smash together two groups of people with such wildly different cultural perspectives and sprinkle in the vast inequality of wealth since even f they had some money when they left their home countries they are probably dead broke by the time they make it to Sweden or Germany, and you have an instant recipe for social strife.

FOR THE REST, LISTEN TO THE RANT!

Consolidated Responsibility & Dianoia

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on September 29, 2015
 

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Dianoia is sine qua non to a viable biosphere.- A. G. Gelbert

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The following article  makes a case for the premise that ignoring, deriding or mocking the high probability of the existential threat we face from anthropogenic climate change is irresponsible. Anyone who is alive after around 2040 will pay for their present irresponsible, egocentric, empathy deficit disordered behavior.

Unfortunately, the innocent will suffer equally along with the criminally negligent reprobates who support incremental measures to deal with this existential threat. Have a nice day.

The essay, "What it Means to be Responsible – Reflections on Our Responsibility for the Future" by Theresa Morris, State University of New York at New Paltz references the work of Fitzpatrick, Jonas, Aristotle and others. I have summarized the essay to save the readers time.
 

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FitzPatrick, W.J. 2007. Climate Change and the Rights of Future Generations: Social Justice Beyond Mutual Advantage. Environmental Ethics. 29(4): 369-388.

The author discusses the moral responsibilities that current generations have to future generations, and how arguing for protecting the rights of future generations is an effective answer to political arguments against taking mandatory measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions when these are unpopular with a democratic populace.

Climate Change, Engineered Systems, & Society Bibliography
http://www.onlineethics.org/Resources/Bibliographies/ClimateChangeBib.aspx

 

Theoretical & Applied Ethics Vol. 1, Issue 42 2, Spring 2011
 

What it Means to be Responsible
Reflections on Our Responsibility for the Future

Theresa Morris, State University of New York at New Paltz

The concept of responsibility is a central one in ethics but it seems to require rethinking when we consider the fact that oftentimes the consequences of actions in contemporary, technological society extend far into the future. To whom or what are we responsible, and how far into the future do our obligations extend?

In this essay, I consider the question of our possible responsibility for the future, specifically the future state of our planet, and the well-being of future people and other beings. I argue that we do have responsibilities to future people and an obligation to try to preserve and protect the planet and its living beings for the future, and I present a new concept of responsibility, one that provides a way of understanding our actions in light of concern for the future.


The central problem with an argument that considers the effects of present actions on the future world lies in the fact that those acting today will not exist in the world they are affecting with their actions.


Why should people, now living, care about the consequences of their actions on a future world whose inhabitants are currently non-existent? Even if held accountable by those future generations, no price for wrongful actions can be extracted from the dead. We lack the usual motivations for acting ethically in situations that might impact future generations, and though we may imagine angry voices condemning us for our lack of forethought and care some several generations into the future, we will never hear those words of contempt.

Despite this, Attfield (1998) argues that "intergenerational justice remains a serious possibility, as actual future generations which come into being, and find that they have been deprived by earlier generations of opportunities for satisfying some of their most basic needs, could reasonably criticize their ancestors for failing to facilitate the satisfaction of foreseeable vital interests" (p.211).
 


Ethical arguments struggle, however, when lack of proximity is a factor, for it is difficult to take into consideration the impact of our actions on those spatially distant from us.
 


This problem arises whenever we are asked to take into consideration or contribute to the welfare of those who live in distant places, those who do not share our community, and those whose suffering we do not directly experience.


Without the presence of the other face-to-face, without a real relation to the other person, it is difficult to remain aware of and concerned about his or her need.

How much more difficult then, to take into consideration those who do not yet exist, those others we will never know and can only imagine.

The difficulty is further complicated by the fact that often the choices we make today, choices that involve use of finite resources, for instance, or the use of technology that may have deleterious aftereffects, may seem at the time to be valuable for the comfort, health or well-being of the contemporaneous human population. Indeed, most of our ethical deliberation is concerned with present actions.

In what way and how can it be argued that sacrifices or restrictions on some very useful and beneficial activities and technologies must be made in order to benefit future peoples who do not yet exist?


 


Responsibility in Aristotle


For Aristotle, the capacity human beings have to think about what they will do is what lies at the root of our responsibility for our actions. We are free to act, within certain necessary limits, and we have the capacity to think about our choices, therefore responsibility accompanies actions when, as Aristotle says, the "source is in oneself."

Rational beings with the capacity to choose among actions and bring about ends cannot escape from the notion of responsibility. It is a given, provided one is free from coercion in one's actions. Here responsibility is not responsiveness to the Other, not responding to another's need or want, as in Levinas. Rather, it is that since we are free to make choices and commit acts, we must accept responsibility for the consequences of those choices.

For Aristotle, to act responsibly is to act beautifully, because when a person does so he or she engages the greatest capacity available to human beings; that is "thinking things through," dianoia . What differentiates ethical choice from willing, desiring, and wishing, for Aristotle, is that it involves deliberation (NE 1112a 15).

To think things through is to look ahead and estimate consequences using imagination and forethought and to make judgments about possible actions based on experience and memory; this is the kind of reasoning that responsibility requires.

Aristotle says, "We deliberate about things that are up to us and are matters of action" (NE 1112a32). Choice is not something that is shared by irrational beings, it is the mark of a being with self-control (NE 1111b15).

Thus choice is firmly in the realm of practical, ethical action. With his emphasis on dianoia, Aristotle offers one way to think about responsibility to the future; it is the lack of "thinking things through," in preference for shortsightedness regarding means and ends, that results in acts of harm, both to the environment and to future people.

If we fail to think things through to the consequences of our actions we are not acting responsibly.

And ignorance is no justification for poor choices, for Aristotle points out that we can be ignorant and still responsible. If we deliberately become irrational, as when we become drunk, or when we ought to know something and yet fail to, we are still held responsible, "on the grounds that it is up to people themselves not to be ignorant, since they are in control of how much care they take" (NE 1114a).

Aristotle is rigorous in his insistence that human beings, because they are rational and have the capacity to "think things through," are responsible for their actions.
 


But perhaps, Aristotle says, "one is not the sort of person who takes any care" (NE 1114a5). Perhaps here we have the crux of it; that there are people who don't care, who are careless.
 

We must act on Global Warming: Climate Change has already made the world three times more dangerous.

Aristotle says such people, despite their lack of care, are still responsible because it was always in the beginning up to them to use their intelligence to make good choices and the fact that they don't care is the result of a long line of deliberations that denigrated the value of their own beautiful actions, the concerns of others, and the consequences of their actions on themselves and others.
 

 

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On Aristotle's view, we always become who we are through a series of choices over time, and those choices form our moral character.

 
The Problem of Responsibility Today

 

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That ignorance is no excuse for Aristotle seems to indicate that those of us who fail to acknowledge scientifically based warnings about climate change, or who acknowledge the warnings and refuse to heed them, are responsible for our failure.

 


To think things through would be to take into account in deliberating about our choices the realities that face us, the sure consequences of some of our actions, those that we have experience and knowledge enough to foresee.  If the consequences of our actions today extend far into the future, this would require that we take that far future into consideration in our actions.


It is just because of this farther extension of consequences into the future that Jonas argues that human action today differs radically from human action in Aristotle's time. As he says, "modern technology has introduced actions of such novel scale, objects, and consequences that the framework of former ethics can no longer contain them" (Jonas, 1984, p. 6). Powerful technologies in use today have effects that extend far into the future, and this includes harms that arise directly from their manufacture and use, such as resource depletion and pollution from hazardous waste, as well as harms that occur because of the scope their reach, as in climate change. The negative effects are not limited to the earth and its ecosystems but include effects on communities of people whose livelihoods are harmed and whose basic goods, such as water and air, are polluted and rendered unusable.

These consequences affect living beings over their lifetimes, threaten the health of the planet, and are passed down to future generations as the integrity of the global ecosystem is damaged over time.
 

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For Jonas, technology has enabled us to greatly extend the scope of our actions and magnified their repercussions, and yet our concept of responsibility has not grown to encompass the new range of action.

 


Particularly, Jonas has in mind the repercussions of genetic engineering, nuclear technologies, and other technologies that have the capacity to impact the future in highly significant ways: "more specifically, it will be my contention that with certain developments of our powers the nature of human action has changed, and since ethics is concerned with action, it should follow that the changed nature of human action calls for a change in ethics as well, in the more radical sense that the qualitatively novel nature of certain of our actions has opened up a whole new dimension of ethical relevance for which there is no precedent in the standards and canons of traditional ethics" (1984, p. 1).

For example, the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf had consequences that extend far into the future, affecting marine and coastal ecosystems, the livelihood of human beings dependent on a healthy environment for sustenance, and marine life far from the origin of the spill.

Ecosystems are by nature interconnected and interdependent, and the reach of the spill was extensive. Its impact is not limited in space or time. As well, we might ask who exactly is responsible for the oil spill in the Gulf? Is it the technicians and engineers, the government regulations that allow drilling to be done in extreme conditions, the companies making a profit, or the consumers whose desire for cheap fossil fuel drives the market?

This kind of diffusion of responsibility, a diffuse collective responsibility that Stephen Gardiner refers to as a "fragmentation of agency," means that it is difficult to assign responsibility.

As Gardiner points out, "climate change is caused not by a single agent but by a vast number of individuals and institutions not unified by a comprehensive structure of agency. This is important because it poses a challenge to humanity's ability to respond" (2010, p. 88).

How much is up to us then, to use Aristotle's term, in today's technological, global world? The notion of collective responsibility is pertinent because in a democratic society responsibility for collective actions like oil drilling would seem to rest with all citizens.

How we are to understand democratic responsibility, diffused among many, is a significant problem given the altered nature of human action and the extended reach of the consequences of our actions. And because the consequences will fall primarily on future generations, there is a disincentive to alter our behavior, particularly if that might make current lives more difficult.

 

 

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While there have been past periods in Earth's history when temperatures were warmer than they are now, the rate of change that is currently taking place is faster than most of the climate shifts that have occurred in the past, and therefore it will likely be more difficult to adapt to.
The Last Time CO2 Was This High, Humans Didn’t Exist

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Without a Trace ‘The Sixth Extinction,’ by Elizabeth Kolbert

New York Times Sunday Book Review Snippet:

In the same way, and for many of the same reasons, many today find it inconceivable that we could possibly be responsible for destroying the integrity of our planet’s ecology.

There are psychological barriers to even imagining that what we love so much could be lost — could be destroyed forever.

As a result, many of us refuse to contemplate it. Like an audience entertained by a magician, we allow ourselves to be deceived by those with a stake in persuading us to ignore reality. …

… we continue to use the world’s atmosphere as an open sewer for the daily dumping of more than 90 million tons of gaseous waste. …

… The resulting rapid warming of both the atmosphere and the ocean, which Kolbert notes has absorbed about one-third of the carbon dioxide we have produced, is wreaking havoc on earth’s delicately balanced ecosystems.

It threatens both the web of living species with which we share the planet  and the future viability of civilization. “By disrupting these systems,” Kolbert writes, "we’re putting our own survival in danger.”

 

While a new ethical understanding that takes into consideration the extended consequences of our actions in a technological society seems necessary, another question arises: where do our obligations end if we begin to think of extending them to future beings and the future existence of a livable planet?
 


How might such seemingly open-ended obligations be argued for? And if, to be responsible, as Aristotle claims, is to "think things through," are there limits to our capacity to be responsible?

Rethinking Responsibility


Here I think it is a good moment to turn to Jonas, who argues in The Imperative of Responsibility that, difficult as it may seem, we do have a responsibility for the future.

He presents an argument for responsibility based on the presence of an objectively existing good, and he claims that fulfillment of the human good results from taking the effects of our actions on the future into account (Jonas, 1984, pp. 80-82).

When we are not able to predict the long-term consequences of our actions he argues that we should proceed with prudence, even to the extent of being guided by fear, in order to ensure that we do not create extensive future harms.
 


For Jonas, the human being occupies a special place in the lifeworld. Jonas sees the human being as that being which is uniquely capable of responsibility, and the presence of this capacity entails that it must be acted on if a one is to fully become the being one is capable of becoming.

The capacity for responsibility contributes to the "what it is to be" a human being and as such, informs the telos of human being. Jonas says that

Quote

"every living thing has its own end which needs no further justification. In this, man has nothing over other living beings, except that he alone can have responsibility also for them, that is, for guarding their self-purpose" (Jonas, 1984, p. 98).

 


For Jonas, the fact that each organism desires and pursues the continuance of its own life points to the fact that life is a value for each being. Life is a good and as such it presents the being with the capacity to take responsibility with an imperative to protect and preserve it, to recognize the value it is for all living beings. The particular human good lies in the capacity of the human being to recognize and respond to the imperative of responsibility.
 

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The practice of taking responsibility for our choices, of taking the well-being and future of the planet and its beings into consideration, draws out the higher capabilities of the rational animal.

 


For Jonas, the imperative of responsibility commands us to respond ethically for the sake of the good that is evidenced in Being, a good that reveals itself in each living beings' pursuit of its own continuance, its desire for life.

As well, responsibility includes protecting the possibility for the continued existence of human freedom and ethical responsiveness.

As Jonas says, "the secret or paradox of morality is that the self forgets itself over the pursuit of the object, so that a higher self (which indeed is also a good in itself) might come into being.
 

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The good man is not he who made himself good but rather he who did the good for its own sake.

 


As Jonas tries to show, the good of the human and the good in the world are not separate but the same.
 

 

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Taking responsibility for the future becomes necessary as soon as we recognize our potential to harmfully impact the future and, as Aristotle argues, once this recognition registers, ignorance is no longer an acceptable plea.

 

 

Rights and Responsibility


Another means of arguing for responsibilities to future generations, one that is less metaphysical and more supportive of political action, is to consider the question of the rights of future people. A proponent of this view is Hiskes (2009), who argues that "global warming and climate change have made it abundantly clear that the human impact on the environment is an emergent one, the product of uncounted individual decisions and choices on one hand, and public policies and political omissions on the other, which make every one of us responsible for putting all the rest of us in a new situation of risk, and not only "all of us" but those who come after us as well" (p.146).
 


Hiskes goes on to explain that "rights are necessarily the legal response to harms, real or potential. The fact that they are new and collective harms that do not fit within the traditional individualist language of either rights or responsibility do not alter the equation of rights as a response to harm.

New harms demand new rights. Because they are emergent harms, the rights that they begat will share their emergent ontological nature" (p. 146).
 

Quote

This argument supports the contention that we cannot disregard responsibilities to the future simply because future people do not now exist.

 


Future people are continually coming into existence, even as the effects of our actions emerge over long periods of time. There is a synchrony in terms of the emergence of future beings and the emergence of harms.

Both are initiated in the present, in the actions of present day beings, and both concern a time after present day actors are gone.

Future needs are predictable and future beings are coming into being all the time. It is not as if the future exists at some point far into the distance, with no connection to the present. The future is always coming into being, it follows closely on the heels of the present, and while we see changes in each generation, physical human beings will always need clean air to breathe and water to drink, as well as fire to stay warm.
 

Quote

The realities of life for future beings are being established now through our contemporary actions and this is a fact we cannot deny. If we refuse to take responsibility for the impact of our actions on future generations, we must admit that we are willfully disregarding this fundamental reality and its ethical implications.

 

In a similar vein, Fitzpatrick (2007) argues that a conception of justice based upon a notion of "mutual advantage among cooperating parties of roughly equal power and vulnerability" is too restrictive (p. 377).

Justice, insofar as it relates to rights and obligations, is a concept not limited to those sharing space and time. He says that, "attribution of rights to future generations will therefore be legitimate if we can speak of an earlier generation's wronging future generations by spoiling the environment the former was given and has relied upon for its flourishing in the same way that future generations depend upon it for theirs" (Fitzpatrick, 2007, p. 377).

 

Quote

Fitzpatrick turns to a notion of stewardship to frame the question of responsibilities to future generations; contemporary inhabitants of the Earth do not own it, they have merely inherited it and should care for it sustainably in order to pass a flourishing environment down to future generations.

 


Future generations have a right to inherit a healthy ecosystem, just as we did, and this right entails an obligation on the part of the living to pass down a viable planet. The responsibility to do so is centered in the right future generations have to be protected from harms caused by others, as well as the right to inherit and enjoy what previous generations have inherited and enjoyed.

That people depend upon a healthy environment to flourish, and that a diminished environment is harmful to people is at the basis of Fitzpatrick's argument.

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"The core responsibility assigned to governments in democracies is the public welfare, protecting the human birthright to basic needs: clean air, water, land, and a place to live, under equitable rules of access to all common property resources.

It is astonishing to discover that major political efforts in democracies can be turned to undermining the core purpose of government, destroying the factual basis for fair and effective protection of essential common property resources of all to feed the financial interests of a few.

These efforts, limiting scientific research on environment, denying the validity of settled facts and natural laws, are a shameful dance, far below acceptable or reputable political behavior. It can be treated not as a reasoned alternative, but scorned for what it is – simple thievery." —George M. Woodwell, Woods Hole Research Center founder

 


He considers future people to be the moral equals of presently living people, and therefore claims we cannot disregard their rights or turn aside from our responsibility not to cause them harm.

He argues that "if we fail to conserve limited natural resources, or to control dangerous waste, or to curb greenhouse gas emissions, then we will be causing people harm, not merely failing to benefit them" (Fitzpatrick, 2007, p. 377).

 

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The currently prevailing “law of the jungle”, causing the atmosphere to be overused in terms of the deposition of carbon ad infinitum, is thus de-legitimized by the Pope.

http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2015/06/heaven-belongs-to-us-all-the-new-papal-encyclical/#sthash.MYn2tGnT.dpuf

 


The fact that these people do not exist simultaneously with us is not a reason to fail to take them into ethical consideration. Fitzpatrick concludes by arguing that we need to reconsider the meaning of justice rights in order to include responsibilities to future generations in our consideration because there is simply no justification possible for disregarding the effects of our actions on the future.
 


 

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There is no doubt that accepting responsibility for the future will require a great deal of effort and even sacrifice on the part of those of us living today.

 

In the next and final section, I take a brief look at the way in which an ethic of care might provide the needed motivation for the difficult changes that taking future generations into ethical consideration might require.
 

 

Motivation and Care


To accept the burden of responsibility for what is up to us, difficult as it is where our technological reach is so extended and agency is so fragmented, is to strive to fulfill the capacity we have to respond to the good and protect and preserve it.
 


This task, however, is difficult, not only because of the extent of effects in time and space, fragmentation of agency, and the difficulty of predicting harms, but also because in many cases we may benefit now from actions that result in harms to future generations.
 

What could motivate us to make the necessary sacrifices required by responsibility of this scope and nature?

Jonas turns to the human capacity for care for an answer to this question. He uses the analogy of the parent and child to demonstrate that we are attuned to caring in a fundamental way (Jonas, 1984, pp. 98-108).

 Jonas sees that caring is a mode of being for the human being, one that is demonstrated naturally in the attention and love parents give to their children as they nourish these beings who will exist in the future.

It can be argued that the care of children is ultimately selfish, a way to project particular and individual genetic material forward. Yet, at the same time, most stable societies demonstrate their concern and care about the future through the fostering of all children in the society and through their concern with passing down cultural and physical artifacts to posterity.
 

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If selfish instincts were at issue here, individuals would not bequeath to unknown future others the endowments and monuments and institutions they have.

 


Jonas’ example of the statesman as a paradigm of responsibility toward the future reflects the important role of democratic social institutions and governments in responsibility. Established to foster and preserve culture and enable the orderly transfer of power from generation to generation, governments, at their best, are concerned with bettering the conditions of the people and ensuring that opportunities, values, artifacts, inventions, techniques, and other "objects" cultivated and produced by society are preserved and passed down.

This example illustrates the presence, in social institutions, of a fundamental care and concern with the future and future peoples that can serve as an example and guide for a practical ethic of responsibility for the future.

It is only through care of the future that we can extend the reach of our grasp on life through bequeathing a planet that is livable and viable, one that preserves and protects the cycle of life for the beings who will inhabit it.

The natural drive toward transcendence of finitude through leaving behind works, objects or beings of lasting value can be engaged as a motivating force in an ethics that is concerned with extending its reach to future generations.
 

 

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There is, finally, another way to think of the role of care as a motivating force for assuming responsibility; not necessarily care or love for future persons unknown to us, but love for the Earth and for life itself.

 


Perhaps we should reframe the question of an ethics of responsibility for the future, because it can be argued that we are motivated to moderate and measure our actions toward nature and to care about the health and continued viability of the Earth because of our love for it, and for the life it offers.

We are capable of caring not only about those potential beings of the future who will inherit this planet but also about the planet itself as a living being we will pass down.[1] Inspired by the beauty of existence, fleeting though it is, we desire its continuance even though we will not be here to enjoy its pleasures forever, and this too is reflective of our ethical capacity.
 

Conclusion


In the preceding I've shown what I see is a need for a reconsidered understanding of the meaning and extent of responsibility today, and I've talked about some of the difficulties facing us in attempting to accept responsibility for the future, as well as some of the motivational forces that might help us overcome those difficulties.

To begin to take responsibility for the Earth and future generations we can consider ourselves as caretakers, trustees or stewards. We can pursue sustainable practices that conserve resources and other basic goods for future generations to benefit from and enjoy.

Recognizing the presence of the good in existence, we can protect it by considering the long-term effects of our choices and actions on the future. The damage we've done has been done collectively, as Fitzpatrick points out, and the only way to prevent further damage and protect the future is through collective action.
 


Taking responsibility will require thinking about ourselves differently, as well. We must develop a new self understanding, one that reflects our increasing knowledge concerning the extent of the effects of our actions on the Earth and the future. The human capacity for responsibility is a reflection of what Jonas calls "the higher self," a good-in-itself that comes into being when we recognize the value of life, reflect on the consequences of our choices, and take responsibility for the harms we cause.

Thus, a significant aspect of the good of the human being is the human capacity to bear responsibility.

The continued existence of the good for all beings rests on humans assuming that responsibility, and the time for us to recognize that is now.

If we fail to take responsibility it will be a failure of justice and of love, towards both future beings and the planet.

 


Notes

1. "When men act for the sake of a future they will not live to see, it is for the most part out of love for persons, places and forms of activity, a cherishing of them, nothing more grandiose. It is indeed self-contradictory to say: 'I love him or her or that place or that institution or that activity, but I don't care what happens to it after my death.' To love is, amongst other things, to care about the future of what we love" (Passmore, 1980, p. 53

References

Adam, G. (2011). Futures Tended: Care and Future-Oriented Responsibility. Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society,
31, 1, 17-27.

Aristotle. (2002). Nicomachean Ethics, J. Sachs (trans). Newburyport, MA: Focus Publishing.

Attfield, R. (1998). Environmental Ethics and Intergenerational Equity. Inquiry, 41, 2, 207-222.

Fitzpatrick, W. J. (2007). Climate Change and the Rights of Future Generations: Social Justice Beyond Mutual Advantage.

Environmental Ethics, 29, 4, 369-388.

Gardiner, S. M. (2010). A Perfect Moral Storm. In Climate Ethics. NY: Oxford University Press.

Hiskes, R. P. (2009). The Human Right to a Green Future. NY: Cambridge University Press.

Jonas, H. (1984). The Imperative of Responsibility. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Passmore, J. (1980). Conservation. In Responsibilities to Future Generations. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books..

https://blogs.montclair.edu/tae/files/2011/03/Vol.-1-Issue-2-Morris.pdf

Agelbert NOTE: The mens rea of the fossil fuel industry and almost half of the world’s 100 largest companies, including Procter & Gamble and Duke Energy, has been recently exposed. They all funded lobbyists and propagandists in order to obstruct climate change legislation.

I use the Latin legal expression, "mens rea", because the above obstructionists of climate change legislation were knowledgeable over 40 years ago of the damage that burning fossil fuels causes to the biosphere in general and humans in particular.

As Theresa  Morris made quite clear in her essay, these corporations made the wrong choice. And they made that choice because they refused to think things through.

Theresa  Morris said,

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This task, however, is difficult, not only because of the extent of effects in time and space, fragmentation of agency, and the difficulty of predicting harms, but also because in many cases we may benefit now from actions that result in harms to future generations.

 


Ethical considerations aside for a moment, the people in these powerful corporations are not stupid. They love their own children.
So, if they knew, because over 40 years ago ExxonMobil scientists laid out the facts to oil executives, who then secretly joined with several other corporations to fund denial of climate change and obstruct climate change legislation, why did they, with malice and aforethought, engage in disguising the fact that they were, and are, getting an F in viable biosphere math?

Some will say that it's a no brainer that they did it for profit. While that is partially true, it ignores the fact that big oil corporations DO believe their own scientists. It also ignores the fact that fossil fuel corporations DO NOT believe the happy talk propaganda that they fund.

They plan ahead. They plan to take advantage of the 'Fragmentation of Agency' mentioned by  Stephen Gardiner. The corporations did not get limited liability laws passed because they wanted to be socially responsible. I believe they will use the 'Fragmentation of Agency', in regard to biosphere damage claims, to unjustly limit their liability in a typically unethical "damage control" exercise.

One of the themes about human history that I have tried to communicate to readers over and over is that predatory capitalist corporations, while deliberately profiting from knowingly doing something that causes pollution damage to the populace, always plan AHEAD to socialize the costs of that damage when they can no longer deny SOME liability for it. Their conscience free lackey lawyers will always work the system to limit even PROVEN 100% liability.

When 100% liability is blatantly obvious, as in the Exxon Valdes oil spill, they will shamelessly use legalese to limit the liability. ExxonMobil pulled a fast one on the plaintiffs by getting "punitive", rather than "compensatory" damages. See what the learned counselor said, "The purpose of punitive awards is to punish, not to destroy, according to the law". Ethics free Exxon and its ethics free lawyers KNOW how the Court System "works". JOURNAL OF ENVIRONMENTAL LAW [Vol. 18:151] The purpose of this comment is to describe the history of the Exxon Valdez litigation and analyze whether the courts and corresponding laws are equipped to effectively handle mass environmental litigation..

While the profits are rolling in, they will claim they are "just loyal public servants, selflessly providing a service that the public is demanding", while they laugh all the way to the bank. When the damage is exposed, they will claim we are "all equally to blame" (i.e. DISTORTED Fragmentation of Agency).

This is clearly false because polluting corporations, in virtually all cases, AREN'T non-profit organizations. If they were NOT PROFITING, THEN, and only then, could they make the claim that "we all benefited equally so we all are equally responsible to pay equally for the cost."

Those who presently benefit economically from the burning of fossil fuels, despite the scientific certainty that this is ushering in a Permian level mass extinction, will probably be quick to grab on to a severely distorted and duplicitous version of the 'Fragmentation of Agency' meme, in regard to assigning the proportionate blame for the existential threat our species is visiting on future generations.

Privatizing the profits and socializing the costs is what they have done for over a century in the USA. They have always gotten away with it. That is why, despite having prior knowledge that their children would be negatively impacted by their decisions, they decided to dispense with ethical considerations.

They assumed that, with all the profits they would accumulate over the last 40 years (or as long as the populace can be blinded to the truth of the existential threat), they could protect their offspring when things got "difficult".

They know that millions to billions of people, in all probability, will die. But they think their wealth can enable them to survive and thrive.  

As for the rest of us, who obtained a pittance in benefits in comparison to the giant profits the polluters raked (and still continue to rake) in, we can expect an army of corporate lawyers descending on our government(s) demanding that all humans, in equal portions, foot the bill for ameliorating climate change.

The lawyer speak will probably take the form of crocodile tears about the "injustice of punitive measures" or, some double talk legalese limiting "punitive damage claims" based on Environmental LAW fun and games (see: "punitive" versus "compensatory" damage claims).

This grossly unjust application of the 'Fragmentation of Agency' is happening as we speak. The poorest humans are paying the most with their health for the damage done by the richest. The richest have avoided most, or all, of the deleterious effects of climate change.

When the governments of the world finally get serious about the funding needed to try to clean this mess up (present incremental measures ARE NOT sufficient), the rich plan to continue literally getting away with ecocide, and making sure they don't pay their share of the damages for it. 

As Kevin Anderson (after showing the alarming rate of increase in CO2 emissions) put it in the graphic below, the 1% bear about 50% of the blame.
 


Since, according to the U.N., the richest 20% of the world's population uses 80% of the resources, the 'Fragmentation of Agency' pie chart for the damage done to the biosphere should look like this:

The way the fossil fuel industry, and almost half of the world’s 100 largest companies, will want that 'Fragmentation of Agency' pie chart to look like is as follows:
 


The world of business has made many Empathy Deficit Disordered, unethical choices. We are all paying for their rejection of  their responsibility to use dianoia in their decision making process.

But they are relatively few in number. Their chicanery would cease from a huge public outcry if they did not have so many people aiding and abetting their unethical biosphere destroying modus operandi.

Those are the comfortable millions who have swallowed the corporate happy talk propaganda.

Those are the people that continue to delay progress on the implementation of the drastic government action we must demand, which is desperately needed to stem, or eliminate, the length and breadth of the climate change damage existential threat.

The people who think that this climate change horror can be addressed by incremental measures are, as Aristotle said, deliberately becoming irrational.
 

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Thus choice is firmly in the realm of practical, ethical action. With his emphasis on dianoia , Aristotle offers one way to think about responsibility to the future;

it is the lack of "thinking things through," in preference for shortsightedness regarding means and ends, that results in acts of harm, both to the environment and to future people.

If we fail to think things through to the consequences of our actions we are not acting responsibly.

And ignorance is no justification for poor choices, for Aristotle points out that we can be ignorant and still responsible.

If we deliberately become irrational, as when we become drunk, or when we ought to know something and yet fail to, we are still held responsible, "on the grounds that it is up to people themselves not to be ignorant, since they are in control of how much care they take" (NE 1114a).

 


Dianoia is sine qua non to a viable biosphere.

Please pass this on with attribution to Theresa Morris, State University of New York at New Paltz. I just summarized her essay and added images to enhance the gravity and importance of her message. We are in a world of trouble. 

A. G. Gelbert
Colchester, Vermont

What is Really Behind the Refugee Crisis in Europe?

gc2smOff the keyboard of George Mobus

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Published on Question Everything on September 11, 2015

Boat-Refugees

Discuss this article at the Geopolitics Table inside the Diner

The Resource Crisis and Climate Change

Back in July, 2013 I wrote this post, MENA – A Model of the Future? in which I dug deeper into the then crisis transpiring in Egypt where a revolt against the Morsi government was being spurred by the fact that the dwindling natural resources per capita (especially energy) were fundamentally unsolvable by any government. The people were unhappy because they thought that by voting in a new government democratically they would solve their problems (jobs, food, water, fuel, etc.) But it didn't happen for the simple reason that the resource pie was shrinking faster than any government actions (say attracting some kind of investment in the country) could counter. Things got worse and people once again took to the streets. Today, two years later, things have gotten considerably worse under the military regime that kicked out Morsi and took over. As I claimed then and reiterate, it is a matter of plain and simple physics, not politics. You cannot legislate resources into existence.

People have gotten used to thinking that solutions come from politics – having the right officials in place means that they will solve the problems. People everywhere pretty much assume this is the case, even in the US where the freak show called the presidential campaign is off and running. No doubt many republicans in the US sincerely believe that Donald Trump will solve all the problems and everything will be right as rain once again ("Make America great again").

But politicians are not miracle workers. They cannot feed the multitudes from a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. What they have become, however, right along side their neoclassical economics allies, are fair magicians — prestidigitators. They know how to manipulate smoke and mirrors and conjure economic spells. They are nothing more than snake oil con men (and women). The irony is that they actually believe what they say and are convinced they know how to really make good stuff happen. They are a testament to the capacity of the less-than-sapient mind's ability to double think.

The simple truth is that when you find yourself in deep resource depletion and high population no amount of financial hocus pocus or political posturing or brute force can fix anything. The Morsi government nor the military junta before and after could ever possibly satisfy the needs of the people. No government could. Nor could there be massive aid influx to ease the situation. The other nations of the world are all much poorer than they will admit. They cannot pump enough resources into the region to solve the problems. There is no scenario in which this comes out well.

Our talking heads continue to evaluate the “causes” of the mass exodus from the MENA region as due to the political unrest growing more violent by the day. For example they look at Syria and blame the problems, initially, on Asad and the rebellion/civil war that threatens so many civilians. Then the US government focuses on the ISIS threat as causing so many people to want to leave. These destructive acts are merely proximate causes. The rebels against Asad are basically repeating the story in Egypt. They claim that bad government (Asad) is the cause of the problems experienced by the people. Replace the government and problem solved! Right? Much the same story is being repeated through out the other failed states in the region.

The civil wars and lawlessness (e.g. Boko Haram) are driven by the rapid decline of resources compounded now by climate consequences, drought and severe temperatures. People are fighting for dwindling resources in increasingly unlivable conditions. The citizens of these states are responding most immediately to the violence, and claiming political asylum on that basis. But make no mistake. They are ultimately climate and resource refugees. And there is no policy or plan that will correct the situation. The lucky ones will escape (if they don't die on the journey) to Europe and possibly to the US. But that will simply cause resource strains in those areas where they settle. Nor will the flood taper off until the region is mostly emptied.

MENA is just the first example of what is happening in the world. As the climate situation worsens, and we now know that it is and will further, affecting every continent on the planet, and as resource depletions grow acute in various focused locations, we will see this same scenario played out again and again. Political upheaval based on the belief that the government's ineptitude, or corruption, or whatever, is responsible for the problems that ensue (food shortages, fuel shortages, unemployment, etc.) will give over to violence. Regimes will change, but the problems will just grow worse.

Perhaps the US and some of the remaining western “rich” nations will try to help, intervene to reduce violence, or attempt to aid relocations. But their capacity to afford such actions are growing weaker with every day that passes. At some point the wealthy nations will no longer be truly wealthy and will decline to try to help. They will, in fact, be starting to feel the same effects themselves. Already we see the discord and extreme polarizations taking place in many western polities. In the US we tend to blame the congress for its deadlocked inability to pass laws that will effect economic change (and assumed progress). Neither side gets a thumbs-up on its economic ideas. In any case both sides firmly believe that economic growth is the solution to all problems and neither recognizes that we've used up all of the resources that we need to do so. They are so blind to reality that all they can really do from now on is exacerbate the problems. In the US we are in a situation that only the most blind persons even seek political position. They are so stupid and ignorant that they cannot even conceive that problems have real physical roots. Pity.

All over the world, right now, you can find cases of pockets of affected areas where people are starting to move out seeking somewhere where they can find work and resources. Within nations like Brazil, China, Russia, and even the United States there are instances of people becoming refugees. The Dust Bowl events in the US are another model for what is happening. Right now, in each of these countries the migrations are within the borders (except in Mexico and other Latin American countries) and so don't show up in “official” statistics.

Certainly there have been relocation migrations throughout humankind's history. We've always managed to deplete local resources forcing people to abandon a region, for example areas in the Middle East were once far more productive than in recent history before ungulate grazing changed the region's climate. And there have been many cases of people simply seeking better conditions (e.g. the American West promised great possibilities, especially during the Gold Rush). What is different about the current situation is that we are looking at a global phenomenon. Resources have been depleted just about everywhere. Climate is changing everywhere and at a breath-taking rate. The regions that are experiencing the worst effects are now quite obvious. The MENA region is probably the most dramatic. For example, by contrast, island nations being threatened by sea level rise and Arctic regions being impacted by loss of ice have fewer people affected and so do not rise to the level of global-level stress. Nevertheless the people effected in these regions are beginning to plan their escapes from their situations.

Right now in China there are many local emigrations taking place due to combinations of insufficient resources and climate change consequences. There is also a fair amount of unrest brewing in various areas. These are not as dramatic (yet) as the case in the MENA region. And internal migrations, as I said, are not depicted in the same manner as the refugee flood from the MENA to Europe. In fact it might be even worse in China than we know. The country is so much larger, the populations involved so much larger, and the information flow coming out of the country is subject to so much filtering that we might not get a good idea of what is happening there until significant violence breaks out that can't be hidden. But based on China's geographical conditions, and its potential susceptibility to climate disruptions, and the distributions of its huge population, I expect to soon see a situation similar to the MENA refugees become obvious in China.

India might erupt before China. The Indian subcontinent's orientation (North-South axis), its reliance on the snow falls and ice reservoirs in the Himalayas and its proximity to the equator make it a candidate for significant climate disruptions. It is already suffering changes in its monsoon patterns at the same time the huge population is withdrawing more water from its limited resources. However, in India I would not be surprised to see a somewhat different response from the populace. The vast majority of people in the country do not have mobility resources in the same way many Chinese do. It would not surprise me if a significant portion of the Indian population simply succumbed in place rather than trying to trek out. The distances are too great and the conditions along the way are likely to not provide support. There is no other large body of land nearby for those in the costal regions to escape to.

As the MENA refugee crisis unfolds this fall we will have a good view of what to expect world-wide. Right now a fair amount of European sentiment is in support of the migrants (I know there is a technical difference between a migrant and a refugee, but as I claimed above, these refugees are really climate-escape migrants). As more and more pour into the continent we will see how long this sentiment carries. There are many anti-migrant advocates already making noises and trying to get more political purchase. A lot will depend on the economic strength of the countries taking in the migrants — will the local natives be able to get jobs? — and the behavior of the immigrants. There is a real danger of culture clash based on the religious backgrounds of Muslim immigrants and secular (or Christian) natives. I refuse to predict anything on this count. The situation is too chaotic.

What I will predict is that the phenomenon will grow and worsen over the next decade. This is a one-way street we are on and no U-turns are possible. You can't un-deplete resources, especially fossil fuel energy. Readers of my biophysical economics writings will know how dim a view I have of the prospects of alternative energies replacing fossil fuels even if we were to undertake a huge reduction in net energy use. Alternatives might ease the pain a bit, for a while, but they cannot provide the long term flows of high power energy that it takes to drive our modern technologies. Magical and wishful thinking cannot change that fact. Alternative energy capture and conversion equipment (i.e. wind towers and solar arrays) are still built, installed, and maintained using fossil fuel power. It is quite doubtful that they will ever be self-sustaining to the extent of providing adequate net energy for economic uses.

If you want to consider your own future, imagine yourself in the shoes of one of the MENA refugees right now. Many of the ones who are making the trip had some basic monetary resources to afford the passage. But look at what they were reduced to in doing so. Imagine yourself now in a situation where the local stores are no longer stocked with food and other necessaries. Imagine your electricity being intermittent, maybe only on ten percent of the day. Imagine transportation breakdowns, perhaps gas is no longer delivered to your gas station. Imagine communications breakdowns. No Internet. No telephones (cell or land lines). What will you do?

But more than that, imagine that you decide to escape. Where will you go. The MENA refugees have Europe, ostensibly, to escape to. They expect their problems to be greatly reduced in these new lands. After all, the North is rich. Where will you go? What country will you escape to? Maybe some Americans are thinking they will go to Canada! But do they actually understand what the climate changes are going to mean for all of North America?

I doubt there will be any real escape. The best a sapient being can do is find a location that looks like it will be least impacted by climate, get situated and hunker down. With luck, you might just make it.

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Inside the Diner

Kushner and Trump: Taped At Secret Trump Tower Meetings With Russians?https://patribotics.blog/2017/03/28/kushner-and-trump-taped-at-secret-trump-tower-meetings-with-russians/On March 3rd, Donald Trump ...

http://mysteriousuniverse.org/2017/03/two-seat-italian-flying-saucers-are-aerial-sports-cars/Italian car companies have been renowned for decades ...

Keep that Python Defense Fast Hatchet handy PY!  You don't want to end up like this guy!CHOP CHOP CHOP!REhttp://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-39427458[...

http://www.ianwelsh.net/the-existential-philosophy-of-decline-and-collapse/The Philosophy of Decline and Collapse2017 March 27by Ian Wels...

Peruvians still swimming.I wonder if they will count all the cholera deaths in the next year in with the 96 so far tallied?    Best part comes at the end:QuoteInternational aid has begun to arrive, with the United State...

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Knarf’s Knewz

 Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez [...]

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About this ReportIn its Corporate Responsibility R [...]

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Oh the wicked web we weave..... [...]

Kushner and Trump: Taped At Secret Trump Tower Mee [...]

DOOMSTEADDINER.COMI have pointed the old Doomstead [...]

Quote from: Surly1 on March 28, 2017, 02:04:13 PMQ [...]

http://www.livescience.com/58438-cats-like-people- [...]

Agelbert NOTE: The Koch Brothers will SELL the ref [...]

Robert Reich : The Resistance Report March 27, 201 [...]

Quote from: agelbert on March 27, 2017, 04:08:07 P [...]

 Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez [...]

A daily roundup of the biggest stories... [...]

----------------- YES! Magazine‏ @yesmagazineWhat [...]

About this ReportIn its Corporate Responsibility R [...]

2017-03-26 - Brazil handing over the Amazon rainfo [...]

Second State In Less Than A Month Challenges Fed, [...]

Health Freedom Victory: How a Small Supplement Com [...]

Quote from: RE on February 23, 2017, 09:25:36 AMQu [...]

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I love the mine car scene, thanks... [...]

http://www.youtube.com/v/4ds9mfUB7DgRE [...]

Alternate Perspectives

  • Two Ice Floes
  • Jumping Jack Flash
  • From Filmers to Farmers

Standard Issue Incompetence - More Evidence of Imperial Decay (Time for Fight or Flight?) By Cogniti [...]

By Cognitive Dissonance   de·lu·sion·al dəˈlo͞oZH(ə)nəl/ adjective: delusional Characterized by or h [...]

By Cognitive Dissonance Back in the days of sword and sail, warships mounted heavy cannon on their d [...]

This issue of my Patreon Newsletter is open to the public. Please enjoy the article. (I now have a P [...]

By Cognitive Dissonance   I just installed a brand spanking new mailbox here at the homestead, the t [...]

Event Update For 2017-03-27http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2017-03-26http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2017-03-25http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2017-03-24http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2017-03-23http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

The sounds of the Romanian countryside, unleashed by Fanfare Ciocărlia for twenty years and counting [...]

Fanfare Ciocărlia's lead vocalists (and trumpet players) Radulescu Lazar and Costică "Cima [...]

When I finally made the first steps to end my abstention after more than ten years in the "musi [...]

All digital reproductions are equally made with zeroes and ones, although some zeroes and ones are m [...]

The appearance of the music industry's various formats, plotted along M. King Hubbert's 19 [...]

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Sustainability

  • Peak Surfer
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Rescuing Los Angeles"How can we use our hard wiring to communicate to the herd that it is time to veer off from a r [...]

Wetiko"When we visited Los Angeles, what we were seeing was not so much a collective neurosis as a co [...]

The Sheer Wall"A system that places monetary value on products and services but places little value on their [...]

Climate Ecoforestry"Want to leap the social barrier to cool living? Behold: a stargate."  In 2008 we asked Fr [...]

Cicero and the Summer of 45"Happiness, Cicero said, is not dependent on things that pleasure the body, but on pleasures of [...]

Off the keyboard of Bob Montgomery Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666 Friend us on Facebook Publishe [...]

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Click here to visit Sustaining Universal Needs’ YouTube Channel! [...]

There is no excerpt because this is a protected post. [...]

In the echo-sphere of political punditry consensus forms rapidly, gels, and then, in short order…cal [...]

Discussions with figures from Noam Chomsky and Peter Senge to Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama off [...]

Lefty Greenies have some laudable ideas. Why is it then that they don't bother to really build [...]

Democracy and politics would be messy business even if all participants were saints. But America doe [...]

A new book argues that, in order to survive climate change and peak oil, the global money economy ne [...]

Top Commentariats

  • Our Finite World
  • Economic Undertow

"I don’t feel the need to Abilify …" Seems all the doctors here have a "Medicate firs [...]

Very good points.And simplicity is a virtue as long as we don't overdo it. I don't see how [...]

To get into my simpler mentality: if "green tech" will save us, why is it that: (A) nowher [...]

it would get a bit monotonous on your own. i talk to myself too much as it is [...]

I love it! Suggestion for #13. Have a party in your garden at least once a month and come up with so [...]

elmar`s global “Magic Dozen” for the twilight years: and the garden party 1. be friendly and in good [...]

I believe the system breaks by 20 dollars a barrel and that is exactly where we are headed. The syst [...]

Steve, you can shut down this blog now: http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-03-27/shells-new-permian- [...]

Ivan Illich's Energy and Equity, written in 1973, sounds more relevant every passing day. It is [...]

RE Economics

Going Cashless

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Simplifying the Final Countdown

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Bond Market Collapse and the Banning of Cash

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Do Central Bankers Recognize there is NO GROWTH?

Discuss this article @ the ECONOMICS TABLE inside the...

Singularity of the Dollar

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Kurrency Kollapse: To Print or Not To Print?

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SWISSIE CAPITULATION!

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Of Heat Sinks & Debt Sinks: A Thermodynamic View of Money

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Merry Doomy Christmas

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Peak Customers: The Final Liquidation Sale

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Collapse Fiction

Useful Links

Technical Journals

Climate is one of the single most important factors affecting watershed ecosystems and water resourc [...]

Municipalities are important actors in the field of local climate change adaptation. Stakeholders ne [...]

The Global Climate Model (GCM) run at a coarse spatial resolution cannot be directly used for climat [...]

The present study presents a brief discussion regarding the evolution of meteorology from the sixtee [...]