Poverty, War and Climate Change

    I recently responded to a climate change alarmist who claimed that the greatest threats to humanity are “poverty and war.” At first blush this may seem to have nothing to do with climate change. However, this perception is a clear indication of the overall homocentric viewpoint of climate alarmism.

Poverty and war are symptoms of self-destructive social systems based on imperialism, industrialism, patriarchy, class division, and consumerism. Cultures maladapted to present environmental conditions perpetuate dysfunctional social systems until they can no longer support exponentially growing human populations. Cultures and societies are transitory human emergent structures, that change frequently and are subject to human action and control.

What is most important to the future of all life on this planet are the impacts of present human cultures and societies on the non-human world. Air and water pollution, topsoil loss, species extinction, biodiversity loss, and habitat destruction destroy the viability of all non-human species.

Human domination of natural ecosystems has resulted in functional disruption of the intricate web of interrelationships among species. What we consider “normal” Nature is in reality a depauperate shadow of once thriving ecosystems, in much of the world completely overrun with asphalt, concrete, glass and steel. Industrial monocrop agriculture has eliminated many ecosystems altogether, aggravated by the over-application of petroleum based fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides and exploitation of finite aquifers.

These very real and immediate impacts of unlimited human population and economic growth far overshadow any speculative and poorly understood human influences on natural climate variation. Though human societies depend on unnatural conditions of climate stasis, the non-human world has evolved with constantly varying weather and climates for millennia. Climate variation is only a threat to humans.

The present global “climate change/global warming” obsession is an economic and political result of the same cultural and societal systems that result in poverty and war. The Climate Change industry is an attempt to maintain those social systems that have resulted in such devastating impacts on the non-human world.


The Global Phone Booth

cell library

Yesterday, I rode my bicycle to the library. You remember the library, the place with books on shelves, uncomfortable chairs to sit on and read, blond wood tables, squeaky wood floors, and the woman at the massive desk in front of the card files who scowled and shushed anyone who dared talk above a whisper.

What? Libraries aren’t like that anymore? Sad, but all too true.

Nowadays, people talk in the library, not only above a whisper, but at full volume. Activities at one end of the building echo through the entire edifice, making reading an illusory occupation. The clack of computer keys drowns out the soft turning of pages, and the bip and boop of the electronic check-out devices competes with the voices of library staff trying to explain how to use them.

The one thing I didn’t expect, the one thing for which I have zero tolerance, was the cell phone conversation going on in the corner of the Fiction section, where I was attempting to read the dust jacket copy of my next foray into the predictable world of Robert Parker and his gumshoe Spencer.

I looked up with my best incredulous Peter Lorre expression, and whispered, “Please, no cell phone calls in the library.” Suffice it to say the budding social relationship between library patrons went downhill from there.

Bias alert: My wife and I have never owned a cell phone, do not now own a cell phone and never will own a cell phone.

I first encountered a cell phone in 1995. My brother, a radiologist, had one. He handed the wee plastic thingie to me and said, “Here, you can talk to Mom.” I ended up talking to my sister-in-law because my mother was a mile ahead of her in another car heading north on the Denali Highway, the car with no cell phone in it.

Cell phones have to be the singularly most destructively indispensable device never needed by human beings. Who’d have guessed that the clunky car phone found in Mercedes Benz luxury cars in the 80s would turn into the tiny pack-of-cards sized ubiquitous center of obsession of 4.1 billion people 30 years later?

Cell phones are environmentally destructive, requiring mining, transportation and disposal of rare minerals and toxic waste products.

Each cell phone uses 4,221 megajoules of energy per year (equivalent of 32 gallons of gasoline). Cell phones are so cheap and easily disposable, each year 140,000,000 are discarded and replaced, adding 80,000 pounds of lead to leach into the earth, depositing 4.7 tons of gold and 49 tons of silver scattered into landfills across the globe. It takes the equivalent of 584,000 gallons of gas to charge all the cell phones in use on Earth every day.

The support structure for that unnecessary chat with a friend inside the house in front of which one is parked consists of cell phone towers, microwave systems, satellites blasted leagues into space and bazillions of ergs of energy coursing through the earth, the air and outer space. The total energy involved in maintaining cell phone conversations around the world would light the homes and heat the dinners of millions of families around the world too poor to afford a cell phone connection.

These are just the physical effects. The social changes wrought by cell phones are enormous and largely unappreciated.

In a world obsessed with computer privacy, cell phone communicators carry on their conversations in a loud voice in public places (such as libraries), unconcerned about anyone listening in, even to their most intimate discussions. Cell phones are easily tracked and monitored, even without court orders and government mandates. The cell phone user’s location can be triangulated and pinpointed by anyone with proper tools and incentives.

If that isn’t bad enough, cell phones have crappy audio quality. The most frequent question asked on a cell phone (following the obligatory “Where are you?) is “What? followed closely by “Huh?” And that’s for stationary cell phones. Add motion and car wind noise and cell phone conversions rival bus station announcements for incomprehensibility.

Judging by our daily walks, cell phones have become a handy excuse to avoid eye contact and affable greetings among the few other pedestrians we encounter. One of our favorite past times is to watch a cell phoner walk toward us, eyes in rapt contact with the tiny glowing screen, whereupon we loudly say, “Look up!” just before they would bump into us. They look up, startled, jerked back into consciousness of their surroundings.

That’s the real price of cell phones: unawareness. Those walking about lifting their electronic teat to their face every ten seconds are oblivious of the world around them. They carry their digital cocoon with them, their minds far, far away, wrapped in the febrile vibrations of cell phone towers, satellites and tiny flat computers. Cell phoners driving automobiles are frequently known to drive into telephone poles, their eyes glued to the tiny screen as their vertical target approaches.

One might think that cell phones are becoming a force of evolution, an unnatural selection process reducing the adaptation of Homo cellphonensis to existing environmental conditions.

One might hope.

It would take a library full of reports to document the negative effects of cell phones and cell phone technology to the Earth and all its inhabitants.

But then, who reads, with all that computer power at your fingertips?

Who pays attention?

Who thinks?

Classical Economics Dismissed

Talking about climate change in human economic terms is like talking about bicycles in terms of fish. The one has nothing to do with the other.

Economists are trained at an early age to strain at gnats and swallow camels. Environmental consequences of human activities are passed off as “externalities.” “Natural resources” (note the human centered term) are free and available for usurpation and profit by individuals and their corporate persons. When resources become scarce, the “invisible hand” of the market place will bring forth substitutes that will allow The Economy to grow indefinitely.

This, of course, is bollocks.

There really are limits to human growth, and we are stretching them as thin as spider webs. Many are convinced that we have already overshot the carrying capacity of the Earth for “Homo sapiens.”

The influence of human activity on natural climate variation is unknown quantitatively, but the qualitative effects of the human presence on this planet are plain for all to see. No obtuse economic justification can deny the effects of human pollution, habitat destruction and resource exploitation.

Things that can’t go on forever, don’t.

What do you have when you chain 1,000 economist to the ocean floor? A good start.

Climate Change Can’t Be Stopped, Human Change Never Starts

I don’t know what’s happening these days. I thought climate change hysteria couldn’t be cranked up any higher, but sure enough, looky here, this article is over the top: To Stop Climate Change, Start Calling It By a Different Name

This is nonsense. There is no global climate disruption or climate chaos,  described in the above article, other than in the minds of those who do not understand climate dynamics and have no perception of geologic time.

The climates of the earth vary through time, naturally, continually and cyclically. They have done so for millennia and will continue to vary long after Homo sapiens has left the evolutionary scene. The earth is not a closed system, and its climate varies in response to solar and cosmic influences that have driven climate since long before humans came down from the trees.

Does human activity influence natural climate variation? Certainly. Do we know how much and in what direction? Hardly at all. Is there anything we can do about observed climate variation? Not with any certainty of a positive outcome.

Meanwhile, arm-waving and Chicken Little histrionics do nothing to mitigate climate variation or make our communities more resilient in the face of a naturally varying climate.

Let’s assume for the moment that “Global Warming” is caused by human CO2 production and will result in catastrophic climate change (for humans at least). What “serious action” can we take “to curb the devastating effects of climate change” within the time frame prognosticated by arm-waving Chicken Littles? Stop driving cars? Stop heating our homes with fossil fuels? Stop raising cattle for human consumption? Stop producing electricity with fossil fuels? Stop building with cement? Reduce human population levels? Stop economic growth and development? Stop maintaining standing militaries that ravage the earth?

Can you say, “Not on your life?” Sure.
It’s real simple. If human produced CO2 is really causing climate change that’s going to destroy human civilization, then just stop producing CO2. If it were that simple and the consequences as dire as the Chicken Littles proclaim, we would have stopped it long ago. Look what we did in response to Hitler, and he was just a mustachioed paper hanger.
Do we need to stop polluting the Earth? Do we need to stop destructive resource exploitation? Do we need to reduce human population growth? Do we need to stop species extinctions? Do we need to stop natural habitat destruction?
Damned straight!
And if we did all these necessary things, guess what? We wouldn’t have to worry about climate change!

Let’s Plan for The Real Transition

Recently I had an exchange with Erik Curren in the Comments section of an article he had written about global warming. Erik is the owner of the Transition Voice web site that serves as a platform for the Transition movement.
Curren’s post was a rambling maundering about “climate deniers,” who, according to Curren, are inordinately successful in “spreading doubt” about climate change, or more accurately anthropogenic global warming.
This brings to mind Ed Abbey’s observation: “Fantastic doctrines (like Christianity or Islam or Marxism) require unanimity of belief. One dissenter casts doubt on the creed of millions. Thus the fear and the hate; thus the torture chamber, the iron stake, the gallows, the labor camp, the psychiatric ward.”
The debate over climate change is polarized on the extremes of “deniers” versus “alarmists.” Oddly, “deniers” are frequently associated with right-wing, fossil-fuel energy corporations, and “alarmists” most frequently associated with “environmentalists” and environmentalism, particularly large Green organizations. One suspects that there is something other than environmentalists vs. corporate developers behind the schism. Perhaps we should “Follow the money” to learn the source of this vociferous debate.
The polarization of the debate obscures understanding of climate science and blocks the effectiveness of environmental activism. More importantly, it draws attention away from the more serious problems caused by human pollution, biodiversity loss and species extinctions, all of which are caused by human growth and development of critical natural habitat.
If we are to plan ahead for natural limitations on human growth that we face in the future, we have to move away from these fruitless arguments to areas where we can come to agreement. Fossil fuel use must be curtailed, even before it becomes too scarce to extract, if for no other reason than fossil fuels are polluting by their very nature, regardless of their carbon content, and their use fosters increasing consumption. Human economic growth and its increasing consumption must stop at some point, because we live in a finite planet that cannot withstand continued and accelerating resource depletion.
Why distract ourselves with possible future climate variation, when these looming problems face us right now and right here in our own homes? 
Rather than political and economic strategies aimed solely at “global warming,” such as cap and trade economic “fixes,” we should come to grips with the very real and immediate challenges of finite fossil fuel availability and finite resources for which there are no renewable alternatives.
Finally, and most importantly, human population growth and increasing resource consumption has exceeded the limits of our planet’s ability to support us. We flat out overshot our natural limits, and we’re living on borrowed time, and squandered resources.
The real transition looming on the horizon is not a simple exchange of nonrenewable for renewable energy technologies. The Earth can no longer support its human population, regardless of its energy technology choices.
The transition that will inevitably arrive is the change from a continuously growing human population to a steady state population considerably smaller than our present 7 billion individuals. The founding concept of modern economics based on production for profit has failed and we must discard it in favor of a steady-state economy based on production for use.
What we need now, rather than an unending debate on the future of global climate variation, is to develop a realistic, rational theory for a steady-state society that lives within natural cycles of resource availability, that does not consume resources faster than they are naturally renewed, and that does not produce waste faster than it is natural dispersed, such that all other species’ viability is not threatened.
We can’t embark on the transition to this new society until we have envisioned the desired outcome. 
Until we know the destination, we cannot plan the route.

The Titanic is sinking and there are no lifeboats.

On April 15, 1912, RMS Titanic, the largest ocean liner ever built, struck an iceberg and sank in frigid Atlantic waters, killing 68% of the passengers and crew aboard. The shock of this failure of technology put a lasting pall on an era of untrammeled human industrial growth and development. 

Today, we face a similar nick point in human history. This time the ship is the Earth and its inevitable sinking puts the lives of billions of its passengers and crew at risk. Our Earth ship has hit the iceberg of ultimate limits to human growth and consumption of the Earth’s finite resources.

The impact of Homo sapiens on this planet is a function of two main variables, Population growth and consumption of natural resources. Human impact on the Earth is a function of the per capita rate of resource consumption multiplied by the total human population. At present, both numbers are increasing geometrically.

Population Growth
Human population, at this moment, is 7,086,000,000 and increasing at the rate of 78,840,000 per year, slightly more than an average of 1% per year. Some countries have a population growth rate more than twice the global average.

Consumption of Natural Resources
According to the United Nations Environment Programme, human beings devour an estimated 45 billion tons of minerals, ores, fossil fuels and biomass per year, an average of 6.5 tons per person per year. Highly industrialized countries such as the United States, Japan and more recently, China, consume resources at up to 40 tons per capita. Increases in consumption also produce rapid increases in pollution in the form of waste products introduced into the biosphere, many of which are new to the evolution of life on this planet.

Habitat Loss

The rapid increase in human population and consumption results in an expanding rate of natural habitat loss, as more and more habitat is converted to human infrastructure for cities, transportation and agriculture. Modern corporate agriculture results in topsoil loss at the rate of up to forty times faster than topsoil formation. What little soil is left is depauperate of natural soil organisms and minerals necessary for healthy plant growth and for the health of herbivores and their prey species.

Species Extinctions
As a result of the above, the rate of species extinctions has increased from 100 to 1,000 times the normal background extinction rate. E.O. Wilson estimates that, at present rates, within 100 years as much as half of all species on Earth will have gone extinct.

Biodiversity loss
The combination of habitat loss and species extinction is drastically reducing overall biodiversity on the Earth. In some ecosystems biodiversity is reduced to such an extent as to threaten ecosystem collapse. The complex web of life is much more than the sum of its component species. Disruption of a single species can have cascading affects on all other species.

Climate Change
Whether or not caused by human action, climate variation is natural, real and happening all the time. Human actions introduce new variables into the complex patterns of climate change, adding new feedback systems with both positive and negatives influences. In a world wounded by pollution, habitat loss, species extinctions and biodiversity loss, climate change adds more stresses to already overburdened ecosystems.

Peak Oil
Finally, and perhaps, most importantly, fossil fuels are finite resources that are rapidly approaching the end of their economic utility in human societies, known as Peak Oil. Reduction in fossil fuel use will ultimately reduce emissions and resource depletion fueled by fossil energy sources. However, human civilization is based on fossil fuel energy sources, which cannot be entirely replaced by renewable energy sources. As Peak Oil becomes more evident, human economic system will be faced with extreme changes in conduct and outcome.

What can be done to “solve” these approaching crises?
There is only one set of actions that can have any meaningful and timely influence on the inevitable collapse posed by the natural challenges outlined above. 1) Significantly reduce human population, and 2) significantly reduce per capita consumption.

It’s a simple zero sum game. The total impact of human growth and development is a function of total human population multiplied by per capita consumption. The only way to reduce that impact to less than what it is today (to compensate for ecosystem effects already in the “pipeline” that will continue after we stop producing them) is to reduce population and consumption to the point where humans consume less resources than are replenished naturally and produce less waste than can be dispersed and recycled naturally.

Reduction of human growth (economic as well as physical) will reduce the driving force creating so much environmental destruction. Reduction in human consumption will relieve the pressure on all aspects of the biosphere, including the human world.

We must come to the realization that the ship of human civilization is sinking and decide the only recourse is to build life rafts and abandon ship. Otherwise more that 68% of the passengers and crew will be lost.

In a following post, I will analyze the ways we profligate humans may go about achieving the goals of decreasing population and consumption… or not.

What I Learned from the Exxon Valdez

It’s been twenty-three years since I woke up and heard the radio announcer say, “The Exxon Valdez is on the rocks of Bligh Reef and leaking oil.”

Those of us who lived in Valdez and worked through the next three years of industrial strength oil-spill clean-up would have been shocked in disbelief to know that twenty-three years later nothing will have changed.

As I write, Shell is unceremoniously towing two rusting drilling platforms into Arctic waters far more forbidding than the gentle inlets and bays of Prince William Sound 1,000 miles south, where Valdez is the northernmost ice-free port in North America. The fragile rigs face winters of crushing ice constantly on the move, creating craggy pressure ridges as the ice is thrust back and forth by winds and currents. Just like the Deepwater Horizon, they will be drilling holes in deep pools of crude oil and bringing it to the surface, through ever-shifting ice, in waters replete with marine mammals and fish.

An oil spill in the Arctic is nothing like an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, even the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. There is no industrial infrastructure in the Far North, no roads, no deep water ports, no airports, no oil spill equipment, no thousands of volunteers for clean-up crews. There is, however, plenty of ice, snow, temperatures to 60 below zero. Do you know what happens to machinery at 60 below? It stops, unless you keep it running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And if it stops, it’s unlikely it will start again until Summer, such as it is. Metal becomes brittle and breaks. Plastic and rubber solidify and crumble. Diesel oil congeals. Propone turns to liquid. Pour out a cup of coffee in the open air and it vaporizes with a WHOOSH! before it hits the ice. It’s a strange, dark, icy world, where nothing is as it is in the Lower 48.

And yet, the oil execs say, “Trust us.” Just as Exxon did so many times in 1989.

The one lesson we learned in Prince William Sound is that once the oil is out of the bottle, there’s no putting it back in. This was in Alaska’s banana belt, with temperate rain forests gracing the shores, warm summer weather, an international airport in Anchorage just 250 miles away, smaller airports nearby in Valdez, Cordova and Kodiak. A highway from Anchorage to Valdez. Oil spill equipment stockpiled at the Alyeska Marine Terminal Facility.

None of this exists in the Chuckchi and Beaufort Seas.

Drilling for oil in the Arctic is just one more environmental disaster waiting to happen.

When do we say, “Enough?’

Won’t we ever say, “No more?”