My sinister plan to save the world

September 1, 2013

Writeup in progress.
Long overdue.
Plan first uttered here in August 2009. Resonance: Not much. (Best was that Neven in person came to my garden for a chat – that was before he started his famous Arctic Sea Ice blog.) Later uttered e.g. here, here, here, and possibly somewhere else, too.

First some inspirational quotes to warm up for the issue:


When someone asked the Vietnamese Zen poet Thich Nhat Hanh, “What do we need to do to save our world?” his questioner expected him to identify strategies for social and environmental action. But he answered: “What we most need to do is to hear within us the sound of the Earth crying.” When the Canadian geneticist David Suzuki met E. O. Wilson, he had one big question for the eminent biologist: “What can we do to stop the catastrophic level of extinction that’s going on around the world?” Wilson surprised the younger man with his reply. “We have to discover our kin,” he said simply. “We have to discover our relatives, the other plants and animals who are related to us through our DNA. Because to know our kin is to come to love and cherish them.”

Paul H. Ray, Sherry R. Anderson, The Cultural Creatives (2001) p.314

 

What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?

– ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson (2013)

 

I consider that the natural biological manner of living is constitutively aesthetic and effortless, and that we have become culturally blind to this condition. In this blindness we have made beauty a commodity, creating ugliness in all dimensions of our living, and through that ugliness, more blindness in the loss of our capacity to see, to hear, to smell, to touch, and to understand the interconnectedness of the biosphere to which we belong. We have transformed aesthetics into art, health into medicine, science into technology, human beings into the public….and in this way we have lost the poetic look that permitted us to live our daily life as an aesthetic experience. Finally, in that loss, wisdom is lost. What is the cure? The creation of the desire to live again, as a natural feature of our biosphere, the effortlessness of a multidimensional human living in a daily life of aesthetic experiences.

Humberto R. Maturana (Never published book ca. 2003)

 

Until humanity manages to sort itself out and get a co-ordinated view about the planet, it’s going to get worse and worse.

Sir David Attenborough (2013)


It has long been felt, even by philosophers:

Why is Earth keeping silent at this destruction?

Martin Heidegger, Beiträge zur Philosophie, Nr. 155 (ca. 1937). My translation (more here). Complete translation of the book: here

That is Heidegger after his “turn” from Being and Time… Musical intermezzo on thrownness:

Into this world we’re thrown
Like a dog without a bone
An actor out alone
Riders on the storm …

The Doors (1970)

The arch nemesis of existentialist nihilism, Hans Jonas, destroys it thus:

That nature does not care, one way or the other, is the true abyss. (…) The phrase of having been flung into indifferent nature is a remnant of a dualistic metaphysics, (…) What is the throw without the thrower, and without a beyond whence it started? Rather should the existentialist say that life — conscious, caring, knowing self — has been “thrown up” by nature. If blindly, then the seeing is a product of the blind, the caring of the uncaring, a teleological nature begotten unteleologically

Hans Jonas, The Phenomenon of Life, Ninth Essay (1966)

[t.b.c.]


Liars?

February 10, 2012

Recently there was a series of sensational articles in the infamous German tabloid BILD: “The CO2 Lie”. It’s not just a repetition of lame old bunkum. The tasteless headline calls for a provocative comparison:

Certainly I don’t want to lump both groups of deniers together in a political sense.

Yet the psychological similarities are striking. Having grown up in semi-rural Germany I’ve heard enough Auschwitz debate between my grandpa and his buddies. Two of them were former low-rank SS men and they spared no pains to make total crazy fools out of themselves. They are long dead now, and meanwhile I’ve heard and read enough climate debate. The weighting of apples against oranges, the refusal to keep things in context and the clinging to pseudoscientific reports is not much different.

Grandpa’s buddies doubtingly ridiculed the fact that it takes a much higher concentration of Zyklon B to reliably kill insects (16000 ppm) than to kill humans (300 ppm). Similarly, some grown-ups today argue that 100 ppm of CO2 can’t make any difference. (To those I suggest trying 250µg of LSD in 250g of water, i.e. 1ppm.)

Another striking parallel is the morally pathologic excuse you hear when you get them cornered and admit some of the inconvenient truth (until the next day). “But Stalin also killed millions” vs. “But climate change has happened before”. Of course the ongoing rapid release of fossil CO2 has not much historic precedent (the last one was the catastrophic Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum 55 million years ago). And of course there’s continental drift and orbital parameters – which are changing on timescales vastly longer than just a century. So “climate change has happened before” is comparing apples and oranges. Anyway the argument is a declaration of moral bancruptcy: By the same logic I could go out and kill people – after all, death is something entirely natural.


(Source: NASA)

I believe that grandpa’s friend, Mr. Weber, honestly believed it when he insisted he had never seen anybody killed during his time as a guard at the Dachau concentration camp (which was indeed not an explicit death camp like Auschwitz).

Similarly I trust Hans von Storch’s impression that Mr. Vahrenholt honestly believes what he says:

I consider him and his coauthor as honest people; they really believe what they say, they are seriously and honestly upset about what they see as a conspiracy.

Fritz Vahrenholt, a high ranking manager of RWE, one of Europe’s largest fossil CO2 emitter, had already caught my attention some time back with a classic foolishness. He is honestly convinced that global warming has halted during the last 10-15 (whatever) years. Any lay person can see immediately that this is nonsense. Just look at a 100 year temperature graph and note the fluctuations. No statistics methods needed. (If you can’t do without maths, see here.)


(Source: UK Met Office. See also NASA GISS and the “independent” BEST project.)

So, this would disqualify Mr. Vahrenholt from any responsible post as an industry manager – as he credibly insists to be incapable of interpreting simple statistics (i.e. discern what can be seen and what not in a given noisy data set). Well, at least he is able to write books and erect more subtle and elaborate edifices of foolishness… But his other main argument, “it’s the sun, stupid” also vanishes after trivial visual inspection. There’s no visible correlation between insolation and recent climate change:

You would need a little arithmetic to quantify the Sun’s actual contribution. That’s of course too much to ask of Mr. Vahrenholt and friends.

For the latest and seriously scientific research see here and here.


Global Population Speak Out

February 14, 2011

Having pledged to write a little essay for populationspeakout.org, I have meanwhile been overtaken by reality: Riot and revolution in Tunisia and

Egypt

So, no need to write much: Egypt looks like a paradigm of population overshoot. Here’s just a little rundown of facts.

Whilst Egypt’s total fertility rate has fallen from 7.2 children per woman in the early 1960s to 3 in 2005, there is now a huge population momentum, adding ca. 1.5 million each year. Total population has risen from 3 million when Napoleon invaded the country in 1798 to 19 million in 1947, 50 million in 1985, to 83 million in 2010.

What once was the Roman empire’s bread basket is today the world’s largest importer of wheat. What will be the fate of many countries is meanwhile reality in Egypt: Exports don’t match necessary imports any more. Until recently, Egypt was a net exporter of oil. These times are gone forever. Average Egyptians spend most of their income on food:

Now the FAO Food Price Index has risen above the last record in 2008 which then had sparked riots all over the world, particularly the 2008 Egyptian bread riots:

This won’t be the last peak, with climate disruption getting worse, Peak Oil (and other resource peaks) unfolding, and ever more countries turning into food importers…

Egypt is particularly threatened by one consequence of global warming: Sea level rise. Being mostly desert, farm land exists only along the Nile river and its delta. In parts of the delta sea water will seep into underground water and degrade farmland.

Next revolution possibly in Mexico: They also had food riots in 2008, and also will soon run out of exportable oil.

Some sources:

AFP, Feb. 13 2011, Food, population growth fueled Egypt uprising: analysts

the Atlantic, Jan. 31 2011, The Economics of Egypt’s Revolt

Seeking alpha, Jan. 31 2011, Mexico Will Follow Egypt Into Collapse

Reuters, Nov. 14 2010, Sea level rise threatens Alexandria, Nile Delta

Joe Romm, Aug. 27 2010, The Coming Food Crisis: Global food security is stretched to the breaking point, and Russia’s fires and Pakistan’s floods are making a bad situation worse

Population Reference Bureau, Dec. 2001, Population Trends and Challenges in the Middle East and North Africa


Economists – A Poverty of Reason…

September 21, 2010

Joe Romm reviews a funny topical book by “environmental” economist Matthew Kahn, Climatopolis: How Our Cities Will Thrive in the Hotter Future

Romm:

A key “thesis” of this book is that people will just move to northern cities and be fine. To see how poorly thought out this notion is just start searching the book on Amazon for northern cities. Yes, the obvious first choice is Moscow, where you will learn on page 7 … wait for it … “Moscow is unlikely to suffer from extreme heat waves.” Talk about your badly timed books

Epic facepalm…
But he’s an economist, after all. Economists say stuff like

There are no … limits to the carrying capacity of the earth that are likely to bind any time in the foreseeable future. There isn’t a risk of an apocalypse due to global warming or anything else. The idea that we should put limits on growth because of some natural limit, is a profound error…

Larry Summers, 1991, then World Bank’s chief economist, currently Director of the White House National Economic Council for President Barack Obama… ooops…
[Update: Summers returns to Harvard 21.Sept.2010]

Suppose that, as a result of using up all the world’s resources, human life did come to an end. So what? What is so desirable about an indefinite continuation of the human species, religious convictions apart?

— Wilfred Beckerman, 1975, author of A Poverty of Reason: Sustainable Development and Economic Growth (2002)


Not carbon negative, no Bodhisatta. Do Bodhisat(t)vas exist today?

August 28, 2010

So, the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Stephen Batchelor, etc. can’t be bodhisatvas? (They might be compensating their air travel carbon footprint by contributing to forestry. This is good but ultimately only greenhouse-non-positive.) For a broader 2×3 view here are potential female bodhisattas: Cheng Yen, Joanna Macy, Martine Batchelor.

So, what is missing? Why can’t they be bodhisattas? No Ksitigarbha etc. today, 21st century? Not even an avalokitasvara looking down from heaven (perhaps, if relevant for essential practical purpose, i.e. survival of current life)?

The second proposition forced upon us at this moment in the histories of civilization, the hominin and hominids and life at large – with historiographic orders of temporal extension ranging from a decade, a century etc. across the Holocene over the recent periods of glaciations down to microbial times of life, certainly embracing the history of mammals – is this:

* Not carbon negative, no sangha.

For, the challenge need not be burdened individually. Some carbon is worth being burnt.


But is there any way?

From Bellamy et al.:

More than twice as much carbon is held in soils as in vegetation or the atmosphere, and changes in soil carbon content can have a large effect on the global carbon budget.

Massive reforestation alone would not solve the climate problem. But a massive build-up of soil could help. The key to the future (if Homo S “Sapiens” is any interested) would be a carbon negative agriculture building soil instead of destroying it. There is a simple stone age tech tool that helps a lot in that effort: Char coal. A bodhisattva dwelling in a Himalayan cave could instantly go carbon negative by just peeing into his fire place (to the dismay of Sigmund Freud) every evening and mix the char in his compost…


Test your Comment

August 8, 2010

I don’t yet know how to enable a Post Preview feature for blog commenters. Also, I haven’t found HTML documentation for users.
This thread is intended as a quick fix: If you’re unsure, test a comment here before you post it at the intended thread. Comments here will be deleted regularly.


News from Doomtown

August 7, 2010

Intro:

Meanwhile it looks the Gaia system is leaving its Holocene balance and inexorably heading to a hot state. The writing is on the wall since a few years, visible for everybody, e.g. Arctic ice shrinkage. This is complemented contrastly by record forest fires and record floods each year. Then there are less visible signs (for you city folk :)), like the bark beetle’s march northward, the expansion of the tropical belt, etc. etc.

This year has particularly bad news related to climate change which I will collect here. Your suggestions and links would be very welcome.

I won’t list standard ecologic disasters, like the ongoing destruction of ocean ecosystems. The news shall be about positive feedbacks in the Gaia system which accelerate and amplify climate change. Given these, things are perhaps out of control meanwhile (more detail in the Afterthought below) — but of course that’s no excuse for throwing in the towel and give up on trying to make things less worse: Nature cries ever louder for reductions of fossil carbon emissions and of hominid population and footprint.

It has been said this is the perfect moral storm. For the first time in the history of our species Nature, not “God”, poses a crucial moral challenge. In my view the defining challenge to Homo S “Sapiens”. (For a broader view on science as a foundation of morality, see Sam Harris’ talk.)   — I will come back to this in a different part of this blog.

How do we live with the fact that we are destroying our world? Joanna Macy has advice in her article The Greatest Danger:

When we open our eyes to what is happening, even when it breaks our hearts, we discover our true size; for our heart, when it breaks open, can hold the whole universe.

 


Now for the news:

• Ocean greenery under warming stress

From Nature news, July 28, 2010:

Phytoplankton are the basis of the entire marine food chain, and have an important role in the global carbon cycle. Through photosynthesis, they produce around half of the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere and drive the ‘biological pump’ that fixes 100 million tonnes of atmospheric carbon dioxide a day into organic material, which then sinks to the ocean floor when the phytoplankton die, or are grazed and digested.
[...]
The scientists found that the average global phytoplankton concentration in the upper ocean currently declines by around 1% per year. Since 1950 alone, algal biomass decreased by around 40%, probably in response to ocean warming — and the decline has gathered pace in recent years.

“Clearly, 40% is a huge number,” says Paul Falkowski, an oceanographer at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. “This implies that the entire ocean system is out of steady state, slowing down.”

Emphasis mine: The not emphasized “probably” is due to lower statistical correlation in the Arctic:

In most regions tested, the phytoplankton decline seems to be the result of a 0.5–1.0 °C warming of the upper ocean over the past century. The warming leads to enhanced vertical ‘stratification’ of ocean layers, thus limiting the supply of nutrients from deeper waters to the surface.

But ocean warming does not explain reduced productivity in regions, including the Arctic Ocean, where algal growth is mainly constrained by sunlight. So scientists must try to find out what other drivers,

…perhaps ocean acidification, which is more pronounced in cold Arctic waters? We will see when the results of a recent expedition to Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard come in.

Next to the obvious positive feedback on CO2 absorption, there is probably another one due to reduced cloud formation according to the Anti-CLAW hypothesis — something Lovelock has warned of in his 2006 book, The Revenge of Gaia.


 

• The Great Russian Heat Wave and Fires of 2010

Meteorologist Jeff Masters, August 6 2010:

One of the most remarkable weather events of my lifetime is unfolding this summer in Russia, where an unprecedented heat wave has brought another day of 102°F heat to the nation’s capital. At 3:30 pm local time today, the mercury hit 39°C (102.2°F) at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport. Moscow had never recorded a temperature exceeding 100°F prior to this year, and today marks the second time the city has beaten the 100°F mark. The first time was on July 29, when the Moscow observatory recorded 100.8°C and Baltschug, another official downtown Moscow weather site, hit an astonishing 102.2°F (39.0°C). Prior to this year, the hottest temperature in Moscow’s history was 37.2°C (99°F), set in August 1920. The Moscow Observatory has now matched or exceeded this 1920 all-time record five times in the past eleven days, including today. The 2010 average July temperature in Moscow was 7.8°C (14°F) above normal, smashing the previous record for hottest July, set in 1938 (5.3°C above normal.) July 2010 also set the record for most July days in excess of 30°C–twenty-two. The previous record was 13 such days, set in July 1972. The past 24 days in a row have exceeded 30°C in Moscow, and there is no relief in sight–the latest forecast for Moscow calls for high temperatures near 100°F (37.8°C) for the next seven days. It is stunning to me that the country whose famous winters stopped the armies of Napoleon and Hitler is experiencing day after day of heat near 100°F, with no end in sight.

And then they got forest and peat bog fires… [wikipedia], [ft.com Aug. 6 2010], …
Smoke over western Russia on 4 August 2010
[· Smoke over western Russia on 4 August 2010 ·]

Moscow shrouded in smoke
[· Moscow shrouded in smoke ·]

Reuters news, August 9, 2010: Death rate doubles in Moscow (from between 360 and 380 people per day in normal times to 700).

Are the current events in Russia “because of” “global warming”?

Quoth Anonymous at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, regarding the Great Australian Heat Wave and Fires of 2009:

Given that this was the hottest day on record on top of the driest start to a year on record on top of the longest driest drought on record on top of the hottest drought on record the implications are clear…

It is clear to me that climate change is now becoming such a strong contributor to these hitherto unimaginable events that the language starts to change from one of “climate change increased the chances of an event” to “without climate change this event could not have occured

Why are forest fires a positive feedback? We are witnessing rapid climate change! Forest regrowth (i.e. recapture of released carbon) takes a few decades – too slow.

Anyhow, in Russia also the dried peat bogs are burning. Peat is a fossil fuel. Whatever Finnland says.


 

• First drought, then floods in Pakistan

January 22, 2010: President Asif Ali Zardari prays for rain.

From centralasiaonline.com, February 1, 2010:

Director General of Pakistan’s Meteorology Department, Qamar Zaman Chaudhary, confirmed the existence of a “severe agricultural drought” in rain-fed areas that could lead to crop failure. [...] “Normally we get winter rains from November to April, but due to the El Nino phenomenon, we are experiencing less than 30 percent (of usual) rains this season”, said Chaudhary. [...] The prevailing dry spell is in its fourth month and has caught Pakistan largely off guard. The country does not have any big reservoirs except the Tarbela and Mangla dams. [...]

February 09: Rain Ends Drought Conditions. But it seems not enough: National Geographic has a photo gallery: Amid Drought, Pakistan Prays for Rain, published July 1.

May 26, 2010: Temperatures reach record high in Pakistan:

Mohenjo-daro, a ruined city in what is now Pakistan that contains the last traces of a 4,000-year-old civilisation that flourished on the banks of the river Indus, today entered the modern history books after government meteorologists recorded a temperature of 53.7C (129F).

July — August 2010:
The deadliest flooding in Pakistan’s history kills over 1,600 people, affecting around twelve million. (…)

Mosharraf Zaidi says:

Just to give you a sense of how bad the rain was that caused this flooding initially, on the 28th of July, there was 318 millimeters of rain just on one day. To put that into context, the record, all-time record, for rain in Peshawar, which is where this number is from, for one month, the month of July, was 217 millimeters. So it rained more in one day than it had ever rained in an entire month for the monsoon season.

 

Why is this a positive feedback? – Dried soil getting washed away results in less plant growth, less photosynthesis, thus less carbon fixation. It gets particilarly bad when ashes of forest fires get washed in the sea (Greece, Canary Islands, California, etc.) Still, this is not yet as bad as the huge decrease of ocean phytoplancton. (Independently of that there’s evidence coming in that soils start releaing more CO2: Higher temperature, higher soil metabolism.)


 

• Greenland: Petermann glacier recedes further

August 05 2010.

A U.S. politician quips:

An iceberg four times the size of Manhattan has broken off Greenland, creating plenty of room for global warming deniers to start their own country.

The size is at least 260 sq km (100 sq miles). Jason E. Box tells Andy Revkin:

Petermann is a sleeping giant that is slowly awakening. Removing flow resistance leads to flow acceleration.

For detail on Petermann glacier see Mauri Pelto’s blog. Great animated image of the breakup at Neven’s blog.

In July, the calving front of Jakobshavn Isbræ retreated nearly 1.5 km (1 mile) in one day. Neven’s blog post has excellent images.

Greenland ice sheet faces ‘tipping point in 10 years’.


 

•NASA reports hottest January-July on record,

says that 2010 is “likely” to be warmest year on record and July is “What Global Warming Looks Like”. Joe Romm’s synopsis.

17 countries record record high temperatures:

Belarus, 7 August, 38.9C (102F) at Gomel
Ukraine, 1 August, 41.3C (106.3F), Lukhansk, Voznesensk
Cyprus, 1 August, 46.6C (115.9F), Lefconica
Finland, 29 July, 37.2C (99F), Joensuu
Qatar, 14 July, 50.4C (122.7F), Doha airport
Russia, 11 July, 44.0C (111.2F), Yashkul
Sudan, 25 June, 49.6C (121.3F), Dongola
Niger, 22 June, 47.1C (116.8F), Bilma
Saudi Arabia, 22 June, 52.0C (125.6F), Jeddah
Chad, 22 June, 47.6C (117.7F), Faya
Kuwait, 15 June, 52.6C (126.7F), Abdaly
Iraq, 14 June, 52.0C (125.6F), Basra
Pakistan, 26 May, 53.5C (128.3F), Mohenjo-daro
Burma, 12 May, 47C (116.6F), Myinmu
Ascension Island, 25 March, 34.9C (94.8F), Georgetown
Solomon Islands, 1 February, 36.1C (97F), Lata Nendo
Colombia, 24 January, 42.3C (108F), Puerto Salgar

There was one record low: Guinea, in west Africa, recorded 1.4C (34.5F) in January.


 

•Drought Drives Decade-Long Decline in Plant Growth

August 19, 2010. NASA has bad news on productivity of terrestrial vegetation – and an excellent video.

These results [...] show that the global net effect of climatic warming on the productivity of terrestrial vegetation need not be positive — as was documented for the 1980’s and 1990’s


 
And now for something completely different:

•A positive feedback in the science-reality system

August 27, 2010, 6:19 pm:
Andy Revkin reports on Pacific Hot Spells Shifting as Predicted in Human-Heated World and interviews scientists T. Lee and M. J. McPhaden on their paper, Increasing intensity of El Niño in the central-equatorial Pacific, published 24 July 2010.

And just on time mother Nature gives us a practical example of what this means:
August 19, 2010: Jakarta Globe reports ‘Super-Extreme’ Weather Is the Worst on Record. Michael Tobis regards this another substantial climatological anomaly.


I hesitate linking to Andy’s NY Times blog, because he tends to also give a platform to BS science (Pielke Jr., Lomborg, …) and even the intentional disinformers (P. Michaels). Well, at least he’s above Monckton and has excellent resources and contact to science. Once he got struck by one of my Internets aphorisms and made a slogan of it:

August 4, 2008, 8:24 am
Are We Stuck With ‘Blah, Blah, Blah, … Bang’?
By ANDREW C. REVKIN

I was struck by a comment that followed my latest piece on cutting disaster risks, reacting to this line: “Only direct experience seems to trigger change.”

Yeah. It seems Homo S “Sapiens” at large needs to first get hit by the wall before changing path. There will be always someone debating (denying) the science (evidence) of walls and bricks. We can’t falsify the theory about that wall ahead, so it’s no science, blah, blah, blah, … bang. — Florifulgurator (Dadaist, Germany)

Hihihi… Click here for the article and my comment elaborating multidimensional jelly bricks…
Alas, methinks sometimes Andy’s world class blog gives fodder to the Blah. This today is inexcuseable – except for good informational journalism which due to the public forum often results in a tightrope walk balancing out “both sides of the argument” — Except with stuff concerning reality there is only one valid side. And here, journalism risks serving as a positive feedback in the system of hominid collective delusion and dementia…

For a paradigmatic example of what I mean, see Fox Clears Everything Up Tonight, Friday, August 27, 2010. — For the sake of balance, from the day before: Global Warming ‘Alarmist’ Heidi Cullen ‘Refrightens’ Stephen Colbert .


 

(To be continued)


 

Afterthought:
Why can we meanwhile safely forget about Holocene climate?
(…)
(Heuristics to be written …)


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