News from Doomtown


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], [ 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, 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’?

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)


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


16 Responses to News from Doomtown

  1. Phil Henshaw says:

    It certainly gets harder and harder to make any sense of this march into madness our culture is so evidently engaged in, but let me try.

    I find it peculiarly incongruous that the world consensus definition of stability in our relationship with the earth is ever more rapidly accelerating expansion, addition by %’s to economic product, using our control of nature to multiply our control of nature, without end. There’s something wrong with that. It would appear that there’s more than one reality operating here.

    Further pointing to the divide is the curious fact that the world wide environmental movement and world government sustainability policy are both in complete agreement. It’s to use increased efficiency everywhere we can to streamline and accelerate the economy as being the way to eliminate it’s impacts… hmm… fyi, a redraft of “The curious case of Stimulus as Constraint”

  2. Florifulgurator says:

    My favorite short “explanation” is the oft quoted quip by Kenneth E. Boulding: “who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.

    I haven’t yet found the source, but the quote must be from ca. 1970.

  3. Neven says:

    Thanks for linking to my blog, Flori. And thanks a lot for the link to “Climate Change as a Perfect Moral Storm”. That guy must’ve read my mind.

    The sociopathic concept of infinite growth is at the heart of all global problems.

    So what is the Black Swan in the coalmine? Methane release from the burning tundra, the Polar Vortex gone berserk causing extreme snowfall in winter and massive heatwaves in summer?

    Watch out for the next El Niño year…

  4. Florifulgurator says:

    Somewhere I’ve seen a recent paper that tundra methane is not of much concern for the next 10-20 years. (Need to dig this out.) Of course, later this century it could very well turn out a chief black swan.

  5. Phil Henshaw says:

    Yea, but other that providing ample cause to “gape and guffaw”, what else do things like Boulding’s accurate reflection provide us? I always figure that would have to be that “this seems to imply something missing”. What would be missing here?

  6. Missing hominid sapience? The lack of willingness to accept simple facts even if inconvenient? (OK, perhaps comprehending the exponential function needs specialist education. Then it’s not missing sapience, but missing intelligence.)

    Apropos exponential and delusion, here’s a yummy chunk of text by the Archdruid:

    I’ve pointed out several times in these essays that this faith in the so-called “singularity” is a rehash of Christian apocalyptic myth in the language of cheap science fiction, complete with a techno-Rapture into a heaven lightly redecorated to make it look like outer space. It might also make a good exhibit A in a discussion of the way that any exponential curve taken far enough results in absurdity.

  7. Phil Henshaw says:

    Well, I think those are things that are prevented, but that’s not what’s missing. What seems missing is more like social approval for answering your own questions, maybe, rather than waiting for approval to question things?

    There’s also a suspicious tendency demonstrated in every culture, in every science I know and in most ethnic and religious groups, the adherence to ideology and treating the socially constructed image as reality. The alternative would be to treat our images as ways to point to the independent realities where you can go find more complete answers for yourself.

    Somehow having one socially constructed reality imposed on all became as habitual for us as if a genetic element of our cultures. So maybe it could have been through the centuries of having submissiveness beaten into us in learning how to serve authoritarian rulers… Now that we have not had those abusive lords and priests imposing their ludicrous notions on us by force for some time, maybe what’s missing is that we haven’t noticed? The king is gone, now how DO we take care of ourselves???

    Maybe we’re so accustomed to accepting obviously false teachings simply out of habit, having our own curiosities squashed as the first rule of being human? I see these funny looks in people’s faces at that point when they go silent on me and drift away. It’s like they don’t have permission to think for themselves, even most scientists. I’m not sure if that’s it, of course.

  8. Florifulgurator says:

    Methinks that’s it, indeed.

    (I’m encountering these “funny looks”, too. I’m getting declared crazy or stupid or phantast on a regular basis. Not only when I’m talking about reality, but in daily life, too – my way of doing (or not) things doesn’t fit well with common social norms. E.g. I’m a night hawk: When I get up early 10am I get accused of being lazy – folks are unwilling to do the math and see I’m actually sleeping less than I should… Anyhow, I don’t care much. I’ve got enough “individualistic” friends. And then, there’s the Internet…)

    I haven’t thought about that problem much from a social (collectivist), but more from an individual perspective: Ego does not like to be disturbed by unusual things. Being socially “normal” is very comfortable and reassuring to the Ego (we are social animals after all). So, thinking outside the box is a pain to be avoided. — That’s why I said the problem is a lack of sapience, a lack of ability to forget about one’s Ego and think straight: Paraphrasing Chögyam Trungpa, “Ego is able to convert everything to its own use, even rationality.” And so, people rationalize away the real world and nobody cares about tomorrow…

  9. Phil Henshaw says:

    Well, I see the roll of social custom in this a bit differently from you it seems. How about that innocent little wall between discussing how to be efficient at home to reduce environmental impacts (which everyone is glad to discuss and try to do but has almost no effect) and discussing the need to stop being more efficient at work with your boss, because of the multiplying impacts of that?

    That’s where efficiency works to multiplies all our impacts, and people completely ignore it though its plain to see. Try asking a friend how they’d feel if they were to suggest to their boss that they stop making so much money??? which is precisely what is completely necessary to actually accomplish to reduce the the physical impacts of the economy.

  10. Florifulgurator says:

    Methinks our difference is no that big. On the efficiency conundrum (e.g. Jevon’s paradox) methinks, one can indeed reduce impact – but it’s not as simple as people like to see.
    One pillar of my impact reduction strategy is indeed not making much money – at my age (42) I can forget about the pension funds anyway.

    The crazy thing about all of my bosses, incl. university (except one who couldn’t pay but had a fascinating project) is: In effect they didn’t want me to work really efficient. As a programmer and night hawk, all I need is a decent computer, operating system and monitor. Plus, flexible work time. Stuff that costs nothing compared to the salary. But no, impossible wishes! … I don’t want to work for wankerz anymore – but are there any other?

  11. Phil Henshaw says:

    Well, then what other candidates are there for why the whole environmental policy community is promoting a method of slowing climate change that speeds it up and adds to all other earth impact dilemmas too?

  12. Florifulgurator says:

    Well, you said it more or less. Publicly promoting population reduction is political suicide. (E.g. here in Germany our slowly shrinking population is still seen a huge problem…) And who (except a few) want to live simple rural life? Unlike you said, the king is not gone – Society is still ruled by priests. They are called economists.

    My post actually is intended as a prelude to the serious post yet to be written. (I guess you could guess what from some of my comments at George Mobus’ blog.)

    But I’m still researching the psychological “spiritual” part. E.g. only yesterday I found out about Joanna Macy. She seems the most excellent “Ecobuddhist”. At least she gives excellent psychological guidance.

    I’m not really interested in Buddhism for my self, but as a tool. E.g. Macy has a book titled, “Mutual Causality in Buddhism and General Systems Theory: The Dharma of Living Systems”. Ultimately I try to yoke the Bodhisattvayana to the cause of appreciating the essence of the Gaia system and trying hard to avoid large scale suigenocide. My verdict: Not carbon negative, no Bodhisattva. So, no Bodhisattvas there today. Will they accept this very inconvenient truth and start acting accordingly?

    They are close (e.g., but don’t seem to get the hard stuff yet. Likewise the “deep ecologist” movements – see e.g. Macy’s page Three Dimensions of the Great Turning.

    I’ll be mostly offline for the rest of this month. Wilderness is calling! I’ll try to teach folks of the carbon negative campfire…

  13. Phil Henshaw says:

    Well, I don’t like criticizing people like Joanna Macy, who seems quite enlightened as far as Buddhist teaching and the traditional holistic view of natural systems and life go. I keep being confronted with people attempting to apply those same moral compasses and settling on deeply faulty physical solutions for real world problems, however.

    I think even though the moral compass points to connecting different views of reality to discover the whole, people don’t. People like to tell the story of the six wise men and the elephant, but also keep falling into the trap of considering the view from their own silo to be the universe.

    I’m sure I’m limited in my ability to “look around the corner” and “see over the hill”, but I do see various corners and do see various hills though…, masking my wider view. I get the impression from how frightened people usually seem to be by it, that most others see no corners or hills in their world views, or if they see them are not tempted to try to go look and see what there is to find.

    I just keep running into that over and over, that people are scared away by the idea being one of the six wise men each interpreting the elephant as an entirely different creature, needing to pull on the connections to other views, naturally connected by the actual elephant beyond view. I keep trying new ways to do that out on people, and it just doesn’t work.

  14. Florifulgurator says:

    Haven’t managed to keep up with all the news. 2010 turned out way more doomey than I expected….

    Forget the carbon cycle models…,8599,1873352,00.html

    Heat wave on Greenland 🙂
    Dec. 29, Narsarsuaq: 11°C

  15. Florifulgurator says:

    Game Theory: Climate Talks Destined to Fail
    Top five climate and weather events of 2010 [VIDEO]

    And I got a loooooooong list of more stuff…

  16. Phil Henshaw says:

    My New Year’s wish? …the true celebration.

    I wish we could talk about it, in the dark somewhere preferably, to avoid being vilified by the bullying that mysteriously appears to enforce the silence,… and prevent the true celebration of life on an interconnected planet…

    …And what we’d then have to ask is “What moves the whole?”, and for finally asking the right question find some real answers.

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