Trump’s Wall Treats Symptoms and Causes Problems

Not to Wall

View of the border fence between the US states of Texas and New Mexico, left, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, right, on Jan. 25, 2017.

GR:  Instead of building a wall on our southern border, we should look closely at the causes of emigration from the south. Is there anything we can do in Central and South America to help reduce immigrant numbers? Worldwide, the growing human population is destroying wildlife habitat and polluting the Earth’s surface. Rather than solving our emigration problem, a wall merely treats a symptom of over population and climate change. And it causes problems for wildlife.

Drought-prone places like Arizona, Syria, and the dry west coast of Central America are facing increasing emigration pressure as surface and subsurface supplies of water decline. We should be analyzing potential steps to take to mitigate drought effects in the Central American Dry Corridor (CADC). Drought is increasing in the tropical dry forest region on the Pacific side of Central America that stretches from the Pacific Coast of Chiapas, Mexico, to the western part of Costa Rica. The drought is impacting portions of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Is there an environmental solution to the decline in productivity or is population reduction through emigration and birth control the only answer?

Severe drought has continued for several years. Here’s a map that shows locations.

How Trump’s Wall Would Alter Our Biological Identity Forever

“Besides the 600 miles installed, there may be 1,953 miles of border wall yet to come. In one generation, humans will have successfully disintegrated an extraordinary biodiversity web that evolved over millions of years. It is a legacy of which we should not be proud. Building the border wall sacrifices the ancient biodiversity of North America for the momentary political gain of one president. Our biodiversity is less flexible, requiring millions of years to evolve to its intricate state of ecological intactness. Further construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall will undoubtedly lead to the death of countless species in the process—adding to the 10 million species marching towards extinction worldwide as a result of the broader human footprint” –Jennifer R. B. Miller.

Two million risk hunger after drought in Central America – U.N.

BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – “Poor harvests caused by drought in parts of Central America could leave more than two million people hungry, the World Food Programme (WFP) said on Friday, warning climate change was creating drier conditions in the region” –Anastasia Moloney.

2556 scientists have endorsed a study that shows just how devastating Trump’s wall will be for wildlife.

Nature Divided, Scientists United: US–Mexico Border Wall Threatens Biodiversity and Binational Conservation

 

World Scientists Warning to Humanity

Scientists Warn of Global Dangers

Tomorrow is World Population Day. A good day to take note of the warnings coming from the world’s scientists.
“Humanity is on a collision course with Nature.
A damaged Nature will survive. We may not.
We must change course to avert an ecological disaster.”
Twenty-five years ago, 1700 scientists published a warning and recommendations for controlling environmental pollution and population growth. Except for global efforts to curtail ozone emissions, the warning had no effect. Last fall, more than 20,000 scientists issued a new warning urging efforts to change our disastrous path toward global ecosystem devastation. If you agree that action is needed, please sign up to show support. Scientists, other individuals, businesses, and organizations sign here: http://www.scientistswarning.org/please-sign.

You can read the article here: http://scientistswarning.forestry.oregonstate.edu.  You can also download the PDF file here:  Warning_article_with_supp_11-13-17.

Switch to Renewable Energy

Storm Coming (NASA)

GR–Ode to concerned scientists: They see the danger, they blow the horns and clang the bells, and they wait. But the ramparts remain empty. They turn to their family and friends, but dreamlike their voices are too soft and none respond.

“Fifteen thousand scientists have issued a dire warning to humanity about impending collapse but virtually no-one takes notice. Ultimately, our global systems, which are designed for perpetual growth, need to be fundamentally restructured to avoid the worst-case outcome.

“For a moment, the most important news in the entire world flashed across the media like a shooting star in the night sky. Then it was gone. In November, over fifteen thousand scientists from 184 countries issued a dire warning to humanity. Because of our overconsumption of the world’s resources, they declared, we are facing “widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss.” They warned that time is running out: “Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory.”

“This is not the first such notice. Twenty-five years ago, in 1992, 1,700 scientists (including the majority of living Nobel laureates) sent a similarly worded warning to governmental leaders around the world. In ringing tones, they called for a recognition of the earth’s fragility and a new ethic arising from the realization that “we all have but one lifeboat.”

“This second warning contains a series of charts showing how utterly the world’s leaders ignored what they were told twenty-five years earlier. Whether it’s CO2 emissions, temperature change, ocean dead zones, freshwater resources, vertebrate species, or total forest cover, the grim charts virtually all point in the same dismal direction, indicating continued momentum toward doomsday. The chart for marine catch shows something even scarier: in 1996, the catch peaked at 130 million tonnes and in spite of massively increased industrial fishing, it’s been declining ever since—a harbinger of the kind of overshoot that unsustainable exploitation threatens across the board.” –Jeremy Lent (What Will It Really Take to Avoid Collapse?).

How Many of You Switched to Renewable Energy?

In recent posts, I described the warnings of impending disaster. I didn’t expect to have an impact, and I wasn’t wrong. As Jeremy Lint points out in the article above, the media avoidance of unappetizing topics is too complete. And of course, our leaders in power avoid the subject in their subservience to wealth. My first hint that good advice for avoiding collapse would be futile was the minimal response to my discovery of the simple and inexpensive means for everyone to switch their homes from fossil fuel energy to renewable energy. Like Pangloss, I’ve remained hopeful. But I read that book, and now I’ve turned to a more practical concern; the post-anthropocene survivors, the weeds, have absorbed my attention. Today’s weed is Shepherdspurse, a foreign but familiar little mustard that feeds butterflies and yields medicines for us humans.

The Time is Growing Short

GR:  An article from June, 2016 should be on everyone’s mind now. Here’s my discussion followed by a link to the article.

A group of scientists analyzed the sources of CO2 and the dynamic relationship between the quantity of CO2 in the atmosphere and global temperature to devise a global carbon budget they could use to assess the effect of timing of changes in CO2 emissions. The analysis enabled them to calculate the changes we must make to preserve a livable climate. You’ll have to read the article to see the individual sources of CO2 that must be adjusted. I wanted to mention the timing for the budget. The analysis shows that if CO2 emissions begin to fall immediately and reach zero in 30 years, we will remain within the global warming limits set by the Paris treaty. After the flat emissions of 2014, 2015, and 2016, the authors believed that the fall in emissions was ready to begin. This is good, because their budget shows that if we wait to 2020 to start tapering off CO2 production, we only get 20 years to reach zero emissions. If we wait to 2025, we get less than 10 years to reach zero. Transforming our energy use that quickly would be impossible.

SO, how are we doing. Six months after the analysis was published, we find that 2017 emissions have gone up, not down. Lot’s of positive changes have begun, but we have to wait to see what happens in 2018. If we begin to taper off CO2 emissions by 2020, we will have 20 years to reach zero emissions. I suggest you take a look at the six milestones the authors believe must be reached by 2020. Then you can monitor the world’s progress toward painful climate change (the Paris treaty) or disastrous climate change (with too many storms, fires, heat waves, and rising seas).

Climate change is just one of the approaching disasters. Human population and its impact is growing, wildlife species are going extinct at incredible rates, freshwater supplies are dropping, and toxic wastes are building up. If we can’t do more than take our CO2 emissions to zero over the next 20-30 years, most of the diversity and beauty of life on Earth will disappear.

Christiana Figueres and colleagues set out a six-point plan for turning the tide of the world’s carbon dioxide by 2020.
NATURE.COM

15,000 Scientists From 184 Countries Warn Humanity of Environmental Catastrophe

GR: This is the 25-year update of the warning scientists gave in 1992.

“More than 15,000 scientists have signed a chilling article titled “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice,” urging global leaders to save the planet from environmental catastrophe.

“The plea, published Monday in the international journal BioScience, is likely the largest-ever formal support by scientists for a journal article with 15,372 total signatories, Motherboard noted. The scientists represent 184 countries and have a range of scientific backgrounds. Prominent signatories include Jane Goodall, E.O. Wilson and James Hansen.

“The “Second Notice”—an update to the original version published 25 years ago by the Union of Concerned Scientists and signed by 1,700 scientists then—underscores the lack of progress from the original document.

“The first notice started with this statement: “Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course.” It described trends such as the growing hole in the ozone layer, pollution and depletion of freshwater sources, overfishingdeforestation, plummeting wildlife populations, as well as unsustainable rises in greenhouse gas emissions, global temperatures and human population levels.

“Unfortunately, the authors of the current article said that humanity has failed to progress on most of the measures.

“They ominously warned, “time is running out.”

“Especially troubling is the current trajectory of potentially catastrophic climate change” from the burning of fossil fuels and other human activities, the paper stated.

“William J. Ripple, lead author of the current article and a distinguished professor of ecology at Oregon State University, told the Associated Press he was stunned by the level of support for the manuscript.

“I initially sent it out to 40 of my colleagues,” he explained. “After 24 hours there were 600 scientists who signed it. Within two days, there were 1,200. There were so many people signing that our website crashed a couple of times.”

“According to the AP, the researchers document a number of alarming trends from 1992 to 2016, such as a 28.9 percent reduction of vertebrate wildlife, a 62.1 percent increase in CO2 emissions, a 167.6 percent rise in global average annual temperature change and a 35.5 percent increase in the global population (about 2 billion people).” –Lorraine Chow (More: https://www.ecowatch.com/scientists-environmental-warning-2509347840.html.)

Should We Look on the Bright Side of the 6th Mass Extinction? – Animalista Untamed

GR: Here’s the case for optimism for the great loss of species and a literate response that the arguments supporting the case are rubbish. And rubbish they are. The optimistic professor making the case seems to forget that we can only be optimistic when we know fear. Our optimism can be cowardly (accepting) or courageous (challenging). Knowing what might happen and hoping for a better outcome, the courageous will fight for that outcome while the coward will sit smug waiting for the good to come. The optimistic professor appears to be on the smug side of this divide.

I have to assert that the professor’s optimism is more than just cowardly, it is based on inaccurate premises. Here’s one clear example: The result of humans behaving naturally may be the end of life on Earth. Our planet is truly like an isolated petri dish with limited resources. Humans are behaving naturally within the bounds of evolution and ecology as the professor says, but so are the bacteria that consume all the resources in their little dish and then die leaving behind no life at all.

The idea that we want to become acquainted with the few hardy species that will survive the Anthropocene and be our companions on the other side inspired me to write a book about weeds. I guess the work represents a cowardly response to fear but with resignation instead of smugness. Okay, that’s a bit pretentious. My book also represents simple curiosity and appreciation for the amazing plants that thrive in adverse environments. I plan to continue arguing for population and pollution control and a societal shift toward ecological restoration of damaged ecosystems. But that doesn’t seem truly courageous, it just seems like the natural thing to do.

Here’s Animalista Untamed’s critique of Professor Chris Thomas’s new book Inheritors of the Earth, How Nature is Thriving in an Age of Extinction.

Animalista Untamed.

“One man thinks we should. Stop worrying about what is happening to the planet – just kick back and enjoy the ride. That is the message of ecologist Chris Thomas’s new book ‘Inheritors of the Earth, How Nature is Thriving in an Age of Extinction”. “It is time” he writes, “for the ecological, conservation and environmental movement to throw off the shackles of a pessimism-laden, loss-only view of the world.”

“We’ve now become all too unhappily familiar with the ‘Anthropocene’, the word coined by Dutch Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen to describe this new age, the age in which Man has played havoc with the entire functioning of the planet. We’ve altered the make-up of the atmosphere, the chemistry of the oceans, changed the climate itself. Glaciers are melting, sea levels rising. We’ve depleted biodiversity, plants and animals, and messed up their distribution. We’ve rerouted rivers, drained lakes, razed forests and covered the Earth in highways and cities. And all the while our own population has exploded, 7.4 billion today and an expected 9.7 billion by 2050.

“What is there not to be alarmed about?

“Anthropocenists (by that I mean the vast majority of ecologists who are concerned about the repercussions of human activity) propose that if we have the technology to so damage the planet, why can’t we turn technology to its healing? Hi-tech geo-engineering such as air cleaning plants, altering ocean chemistry to absorb more carbon, or capturing carbon emissions from power stations and factories. Maybe we could even modify the weather. A luxury travel company that promises perfect wedding weather for the big day thinks we can. Expert opinion says otherwise: “The scale of the Earth’s atmosphere is far too great to tamper with—at least for now.” according to meteorologist Bruce Broe.

“But Professor Chris Thomas’s thinking runs on altogether different lines, and he’s nothing if not a glass-half-full man. In this age of mass extinction, he says, nature will do what it always does – fight back.

“A quick summary of his thinking –

  • “Man is an animal and just as much a part of Nature as a bird or a fish
  • “Contrary to what we are constantly being told, Nature is thriving. There are biodiversity gains as well as losses, and “the number of species is increasing in most regions of the world”
  • “The essence of life is eternal change  – everything lives, evolves, dies. There is no stasis in Nature. We need to embrace the change and forget about trying to hold back the hands of the clock

“Taking each of those points in turn:” –Animalista Untamed. (Should We Look on the Bright Side of the 6th Mass Extinction? – Animalista Untamed.)

Time of Great Dying: Population Bomb Bursts, the End of Old-Growth Forests, and the Great Awakening

GR: Like an empty deck chair bumping in the wind, I’ve repeated this warning over and over. I’ve tried to find new ways to phrase it, new associations to tie it to, and more reasons that we must search for a solution. I’ve tried to stir anger at inequities, greed, and the corruption of public servants. Great writers, speakers, and leaders have tried as well. And yet the river carrying our little canoe continues on toward the growing rumble of a great falls. The rumble is beyond the blaring horns and sussurating tires on pavement that surrounds us, but if you listen for the calls of birds and crickets you may hear it in the empty spaces they no longer fill.

In the article below, Dr. Glen Barry mixes resignation and hope and suggests that we can still stop before the falls–we just need to “believe in a better world and make it so.”

An aerial view of housing development, Photo by IDuke, Wikimedia | CC BY-SA 2.5

“The living biosphere, is infested with humans. Not just any humans, but the type that grow fat and reproduce exponentially by liquidating natural ecosystems. The population bomb has burst and we are seeing daily the predicted consequences of collapse and death in the climate, water, oceans, and on the land. Having spent much of my life working to protect Earth’s last naturally evolved primary forests from logging for inequitable over-consumption, I am today ready to declare defeat. Preserving Earth’s last large old-growth forests is a lost cause as there are simply too many people. This Time of Great Dying is unlikely to end well unless a global ecology ethic – including a sense of ENOUGHNESS, just population reductions, ending fossil fuels, and massive ecological restoration – is widely embraced with all haste in an unprecedented and overdue Great Awakening.

Over-Populated, Inequitable Over-Consumption

“In 90 years – a blink of an eye in ecological and geological time – the human population has gone from two billion to over seven billion. Another one billion people are added every 12-15 years, such exponential growth in human population can only end in collapse. Of these, a billion extravagantly over-consume (including a few hundred individuals who have amassed half of Earth’s wealth) as another billion live in abject poverty on less than $1.50 a day.

“Concurrently capitalism has manufactured all types of artificial needs for consumption to which the vast majority aspire, and which can never be universalized at current population densities. Thus globally devastating inequity is assured. Each of these manufactured desires is fulfilled through apocalyptic polluting of the atmosphere and liquidating of natural ecosystems that have evolved over eons and make Earth habitable.

“Over-populated, inequitable over-consumption literally dismembers Gaia – the living Earth – to gorge upon her ill-gotten limbs.

“The idea that we can just keep growing forever on a finite planet is totally imbecilic…”          – Paul Ehrlich, Author of The Population Bomb

“As long anticipated, the population bomb has burst, and we are witnessing the impact upon the natural world. The result of such democratic consumption has been our current Time of Great Dying – an epic cataclysm of death and destruction rained down by humanity upon all non-human life and their assemblages into natural wildlife populations, plant communities, ecosystems, and landscapes. Humans, after all, are animals too. It is not normal for populations of an organism to grow so rapidly, or for an organism to so quickly destroy its own habitat. When this does occur in nature, the result is always mass death and system collapse.

“Everywhere a trained eye looks, one can see the tawdry, traumatized remains of much diminished organic biological life upon an immense ecocidal battlefield. Oceans are plagued by overfishing and dead-zones, the climate is failing before our very eyes, wetlands and soils are much diminished, natural sources of water are increasingly scarce, wildlife has been decimated in a reign of terror, and natural terrestrial ecosystems have virtually disappeared. And the murder of remnant bits of nature that still exist continues unabated.

“Over the past century throughout much of the world naturally evolved millions of year old old-growth forests have in short order simply been mowed to be replaced by farms, homes, and strip malls for the ever burgeoning bourgeois population of over-consumers. We poorly measure human advancement by the speed whereby this growth machine dismembers our ecological habitat.” –Glen Barry (Time of Great Dying: Population Bomb Bursts, the End of Old-Growth Forests, and the Great Awakening | MAHB.)

Here’s an interesting post about ending our population growth.

World Population Will Grow 30% To 9.8 Billion by 2050

GR: By 2050, our global population will increase by more than 2 billion people. That’s if nothing gets in the way. The projected growth comes at a time when the Earth’s capacity to support us is in decline. Add the increasingly fierce storms of an unbalanced climate system to the problems of dwindling resources, and calamity becomes unavoidable. It’s too late to rebuild Earth’s food-producing ecosystems, prevent climate upheaval, or control our reproductive urges in time to avoid disaster, but we can prepare for the inevitable crash. Those of us who can’t stuff our pockets with oil money can use our minds instead and begin studying the options.

“The global population will reach 9.8 billion in 2050, up from 7.5 billion now, according to the 2017 World Population Data Sheet. This year’s edition includes a special focus on the world’s youth (ages 15-24), with indicators and analytical graphics that assess whether youth are poised to become productive adults.” –2017 World Population Data Sheet (Population Reference Bureau)

GR:  I just ran across another good discussion by Richard Heinberg (http://www.postcarbon.org/why-climate-change-isnt-our-biggest-environmental-problem-and-why-technology-wont-save-us). It’s certainly worth a read.

When and How Will Growth Cease?

GR:  The three ways that Jason Brent (article introduced below) believes our unsustainable economic and population growth will end make sense, but choosing between the two methods of population control (as opposed to lethal disasters, the first method) requires rational behavior. Nothing in our history suggests that humanity makes rational decisions at global scales. That leaves only Brent’s first way, “Wars, most likely with weapons of mass destruction, disease, starvation, civil strife and other horrors beyond the imagination.” Let’s think about that.

Among the many scientists studying climate, even the most conservative are beginning to accept that global temperature will rise by 4-degrees Celsius by 2100. The accelerated weather extremes that come with the warming will add to the pressure of limited resources on economic growth, even growth at realistic rates of 2% or 1.5%.

The greatest short-term climate change effects on growth will be reductions of agricultural productivity, marine fisheries, and freshwater supplies. These will force migrations and resource conflicts that will begin to trim population and economic growth well before the end of the century. Several uncertain events could further shorten the period of economic growth. Pandemic disease, loss of arctic ice, methane release, and power failure leading to nuclear reactor meltdown are just a few of the possibilities.

As others have pointed out, reducing population will not stop economic growth before current resource limitations and the compounding effect of climate change cause a crash. Disaster preparations at national and local levels are essential. Richard Heinberg recently offered two approaches to preparing for the crash. I recommend reading my and Heinberg’s comments along with Brent’s in the article below.

Jason G. Brent– “Only with knowledge will humanity survive. Our search for knowledge will encounter uncertainties and unknowns, but search we must. The search must persist and adapt as humanity’s present knowledge is expanded and changed. Continued allegiance to the false belief that human population and our current economic system can grow indefinitely, runs directly counter to this search for knowledge. Those that espouse this belief hinder our search for the knowledge critical to humanity’s survival.

“Since Earth and the resources it can provide humanity are finite, both population and economic growth must cease sometime in the future. To use ridiculous examples to prove a point– Earth could not support 1 trillion people for even one moment and Earth could not support an economy 1 trillion times as large as the current economy for even one moment. Therefore, the following questions arise:

  1. When will growth cease? and
  2. How will growth cease?

“We can debate when growth will cease, but we cannot debate the fact that it will cease. Those who take the position that growth in the number of people, the resources they use, and the waste they create can continue on a finite Earth are, again, arrogant fools. While new technologies, recycling and any other actions taken by humanity can reduce the amount of resources used per unit of economic activity/output, neither new technologies, recycling nor any other actions taken by humanity can convert the finite and limited resources Earth provides humanity into infinite resources that will permit economic activity and population to grow forever.

“Almost every resource Earth provides humanity is finite. The more we use today the less we have for tomorrow. Theoretically, Earth provides humanity with two types of resources: renewable resources and nonrenewable resources. Nonrenewable resources include fossil fuels and minerals. Renewable resources include soil, water, forest growth, fish in the ocean, and similar items. In reality, humanity is using almost every theoretically renewable resource faster than it can be naturally replaced and, therefore, for all practical purposes, renewable resources have become nonrenewable. Well before these resources are exhausted, we will find them harder to exploit. Humanity in the past has used those resources which were the easiest to obtain, had the highest concentrations of the minerals desired, the easiest to process, and closest to the place where they would be used. In the future humanity will be forced to use resources which are harder to obtain, have lower concentrations, are harder to process, and further from the place of usage. We will therefore face the challenges of higher prices, reduced returns, and greater processing waste well before the resources are exhausted. In many cases we already are.

“Yet many economists, politicians, and even environmentalists will have you believe that the economy can continue to grow in spite of the fact that resources and sinks are limited. The recent budget proposal from the Trump administration relies on the assumption of 3% growth of the U.S. economy as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP)[1]. Since the economy will grow in a compound manner, a 3% annual growth rate would cause the economy of the USA to double about every 23.33 years. In 233 years there would be 10 doublings resulting in a growth factor of over 1,000 and in 466 years there would be 20 doublings resulting in a growth factor of over 1 million. In under 100 years at the same annual growth rate, there would be over 4 doublings resulting in a growth factor of over 16–2,4,8,16. The resources that will be available to the USA in under 100 years will not permit the economy of the USA to be 16 times as large as the current economy.  Do you have any facts that would support the position that the economy of the USA could become 16 times as large as the current economy in under 100 years?

“Instead, the evidence suggests that attempting to maintain an annual compound economic growth rate of 3% which would result in four doublings in 100 years, or a growth factor of sixteen, would result in the collapse of civilization. Why? Economic growth requires the use of physical resources. Without the use of physical resources, economic growth cannot and will not continue. It is almost certain that the earth cannot supply humanity, on an overall basis, with four times the resources it presently supplies. History suggests that resource constraints are more likely to lead to wars and disease than previously unseen economic flourishing and wellbeing.

“It is not my intent to pick on Donald Trump in this essay, as the majority of candidates and major political parties, across levels of politics, have taken the position that growth is the solution to all or almost all of the problems faced today by humanity. Anyone who believes growth is a solution to any of the problems presently faced by humanity ignores the fact that Earth and the resources it can provide humanity are finite, the power of compound growth and the fact that the human population is exploding.  Almost all of the problems faced by humanity today were caused, in whole or in part, by the combined impact of economic and population growth.” –Jason G. Brent (Continue: When and How Will Growth Cease? | MAHB).

Are We Doomed or Can We Survive the Coming Crash?

GR: I read an interesting article by Richard Heinberg published on the Post Carbon Institute website on Thursday. The article offers two responses to the coming crash that improve our chances for surviving The solutions are quite clearly presented and I think you will agree with me that they make sense.

The crash will occur because our energy-dependent industrialized societies cannot sustain their current level of energy consumption. As Heinberg points out, it is possible to live a good life on a smaller energy budget. And this means that our civilization can survive a major reset without total failure. My only quibble with the article is that Heinberg seems to assume that carbon emissions have begun to fall. We just learned that this isn’t true. This is a problem we need to deal with now.

Heinberg explains that the reason the coming crash threatens our survival is that our society is too dependent on growth. If growth fails, we crash. Growth is going to fail because of climate change, energy resource limits, the increase in the food required by our growing population, soil erosion, deforestation, species extinctions, declining fresh water, ocean acidification, and our fragile economic system.

Heinberg’s crash responses control the crash so that civilization can recover at lower population and consumption levels. Clearly, there is no certainty that civilization will survive. Nevertheless, planning ahead for the post-crash recovery is a rational response that delivers a valid hope for our future.

“Among those who understand the systemic nature of our problems, the controlled crash option is the subject of what may be the most interesting and important conversation that’s taking place on the planet just now. But only informed people who have gotten over denial and self-delusion are part of it.”

Here’s a bit more of Heinberg’s article:

Are We Doomed? Let’s Have a Conversation.

“Are we doomed if we can’t maintain current and growing energy levels? And are we doomed anyway due to now-inevitable impacts of climate change?

“First, the good news. With regard to energy, we should keep in mind the fact that today’s Americans use roughly twice as much per capita as their great-grandparents did in 1925. While people in that era enjoyed less mobility and fewer options for entertainment and communication than we do today, they nevertheless managed to survive and even thrive. And we now have the ability to provide many services (such as lighting) far more efficiently, so it should be possible to reduce per-capita energy usage dramatically while still maintaining a lifestyle that would be considered more than satisfactory by members of previous generations and by people in many parts of the world today. And reducing energy usage would make a whole raft of problems—climate change, resource depletion, the challenge of transitioning to renewable energy sources—much easier to solve.

“The main good news with regard to climate change that I can point to (as I did in an essay posted in June) is that economically recoverable fossil fuel reserves are consistent only with lower-emissions climate change scenarios. As BP and other credible sources for coal, oil, and natural gas reserves figures show, and as more and more researchers are pointing out, the worst-case climate scenarios associated with “business as usual” levels of carbon emissions are in fact unrealistic.

“Now, the bad news. While we could live perfectly well with less energy, that’s not what the managers of our economy want. They want growth. Our entire economy is structured to require constant, compounded growth of GDP, and for all practical purposes raising the GDP means using more energy. While fringe economists and environmentalists have for years been proposing ways to back away from our growth addiction (for example, by using alternative economic indices such as Gross National Happiness), none of these proposals has been put into widespread effect. As things now stand, if growth falters the economy crashes.

“There’s bad climate news as well: even with current levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases, we’re seeing unacceptable and worsening impacts—raging fires, soaring heat levels, and melting icecaps. And there are hints that self-reinforcing feedbacks maybe kicking in: an example is the release of large amounts of methane from thawing tundra and oceanic hydrates, which could lead to a short-term but steep spike in warming. Also, no one is sure if current metrics of climate sensitivity (used to estimate the response of the global climate system to a given level of forcing) are accurate, or whether the climate is actually more sensitive than we have assumed. There’s some worrisome evidence the latter is case.

“But let’s step back a bit. If we’re interested in signs of impending global crisis, there’s no need to stop with just these two global challenges. The world is losing 25 billion tons of topsoil a year due to current industrial agricultural practices; if we don’t deal with that issue, civilization will still crash even if we do manage to ace our energy and climate test. Humanity is also over-using fresh water: ancient aquifers are depleting, while other water sources are being polluted. If we don’t deal with our water crisis, we still crash. Species are going extinct at a thousand times the pre-industrial rate; if we don’t deal with the biodiversity dilemma, we still crash. Then there are social and economic problems that could cause nations to crumble even if we manage to protect the environment; this threat category includes the menaces of over-reliance on debt and increasing economic inequality.

“If we attack each of these problems piecemeal with technological fixes (for example, with desalination technology to solve the water crisis or geo-engineering to stabilize the climate) we may still crash because our techno-fixes are likely to have unintended consequences, as all technological interventions do. Anyway, the likelihood of successfully identifying and deploying all the needed fixes in time is vanishingly small.” –Richard Heinberg (Continue reading: Are We Doomed? Let’s Have a Conversation. Post Carbon Institute).

Here’s an earlier discussion of things we need to do to prepare for the crash.