Writeup in progress.
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?
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)
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.
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.)
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.
The Pause zombie is still walking. Or was it a Borg opinionating at the Wall Street Journal?
Tamino tried another exorcism. Animated thus:
Having pledged to write a little essay for populationspeakout.org, I have meanwhile been overtaken by reality: Riot and revolution in Tunisia and
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:
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.
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
Population Reference Bureau, Dec. 2001, Population Trends and Challenges in the Middle East and North Africa
Joe Romm reviews a funny topical book by “environmental” economist Matthew Kahn, Climatopolis: How Our Cities Will Thrive in the Hotter Future…
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
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)
These are the two hindrances to serious Buddhism that are forced upon us inescapably at this unique moment in the histories of civilization, of the hominids, and above all in the history of life at large – with historiographic orders of temporal extension ranging from a century, across the Holocene (now gone) and across the recent periods of glaciations, perhaps down to microbial times of life, certainly embracing the history of mammals…
You know what I’m talking about… Earth is no longer flat. It is seriously out of whack, particularly its carbon cycle. Suddenly we can no longer afford hominid navel gazing. Is and Ought are no longer disconnected. We need to make serious contact with the ground of Being…
This very century we have both the past and the future of Life in our hands. On the one hand it will be decided how much of millions of years of Mother Evolution’s hard work will get wasted and rendered vain in the 6th Great Extinction whose beginning we now witness. On the other hand it is down to our survival or our extinction and the stupid we perpetrate on the way to either, or not, if Mother Evolution needs and gets a second chance, perhaps only to fail again, fatally then, by evolving the same insane “sapiens” once more… Time and chance is finite: The sun grows hotter.
So, the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Stephen & Martine Batchelor, Joanna Macy, etc. etc. can’t be bodhisattvas? (They might be compensating their air travel carbon footprint by contributing to forestry. This is good but ultimately only greenhouse-non-positive.)
So, what is missing? Why can’t they be bodhisattas? They could, if there were a carbon negative sangha. For, the challenge of our time need not be burdened individually. Some fossil 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. (Plus, trivially, cease burning fossil carbon.) 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 into the compost…
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