The Canadian Weasel: A Whiny Species

Canadian Forest

 

So many Canadian trees are dying that on balance our forests emit more carbon than they sequester. The Canadian government is trying to weasel out of our CO2 reduction commitments by claiming that CO2 from our trees should not be counted because they are dying due to forest fires and insect infestations, which are not human caused.

This is just plain wrong, for two reasons.

First, climate change doesn’t care where the CO2 came from. The IPCC, in their most recent report, said we must reduce our emissions by 50% within 12 years or civilization will collapse. Soak that in while pondering the fact that the IPCC has a track record of being much too optimistic. Canada is one of the wealthiest countries on the planet which means our citizens can make do with a lot less of everything and still be better off than most people in other countries. Instead of trying to weasel out of our fair share we should be standing up and setting an example by reducing far more per capita than other countries.

Second, our trees are burning and being killed by insects because they’re sick, and they’re sick because ground level ozone, which is toxic to all plants, is rising. Ground level ozone is a byproduct of the fossil fuels our civilization burns. The trees are not sequestering carbon, like healthy trees are supposed to do, because of our population and lifestyles. Which is yet another good reason to cut more CO2 rather than whining like babies and trying to weasel out of doing the right thing.

Shame on us!  I used to be proud to be a Canadian.

For more on how ground level ozone is killing trees, see the work of Gail Zawacki.

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/canada-forests-carbon-sink-or-source-1.5011490

Canada’s forests actually emit more carbon than they absorb — despite what you’ve heard on Facebook.

Our managed forest land hasn’t been a net carbon sink since 2001.

You might have heard that Canada’s forests are an immense carbon sink, sucking up all sorts of CO2 — more than we produce — so we don’t have to worry about our greenhouse gas emissions.

This claim has been circulated on social media and repeated by pundits and politicians.

This would be convenient for our country, if it were real. Hitting our emissions-reduction targets would be a breeze. But, like most things that sound too good to be true, this one is false.

That’s because trees don’t just absorb carbon when they grow, they emit it when they die and decompose, or burn.

When you add up both the absorption and emission, Canada’s forests haven’t been a net carbon sink since 2001. Due largely to forest fires and insect infestations, the trees have actually added to our country’s greenhouse gas emissions for each of the past 15 years on record.

Not surprisingly, then, Canada has historically excluded its forests when accounting for its total greenhouse emissions to the rest of the world. We had that option, under international agreements, and it was in our interest to leave the trees out of the total tabulation, since they would have boosted our overall emissions.

But, just in the past couple of years, we have taken a different approach. We are now making the case to the United Nations that things like forest fires and pine beetle infestations shouldn’t count against us, and that only human-related changes to our forests should be included when doing the calculations that matter to our emission-reduction targets.

 

By Michael Mills: How to Avoid Population Overshoot and Collapse

Dr. Michael Mills

Thanks to James at Megacancer for bringing my attention to this 2011 essay by Dr. Michael Mills, an associate professor of psychology at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles California. The interests of Dr. Mills include the evolutionary psychology of peak oil.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-how-and-why-sex-differences/201111/how-avoid-population-overshoot-and-collapse

In this essay Mills demonstrates an excellent understanding of human overshoot, and uses his expertise in evolutionary psychology to offer strategies for shifting human behavior in a more sustainable direction.

 

As shown in the graph below, this is an example of a general phenomenon.  All species suffer population collapse or species extinction if they overshoot and degrade the carrying capacity of their ecology.

Carrying Capacity & Overshoot

This is also the fate that awaits bacteria growing in a Petri dish, as you might remember from your high school biology course.  Imagine a Petri dish with enough nutrients to support a growing bacteria culture until the dish is completely full of them.  One bacterium is placed inside the dish at 11:00am, and the population of bacteria doubles every minute — such that the Petri dish will be full by noon.

At what time will the Petri dish be half full of bacteria?

Most people reply incorrectly that the Petri dish will be half full at 11:30am, because we are more familiar with linear, rather  than with exponential, rates of growth.  The correct answer is 11:59am — which seems rather unintuitive. However, because the rate of growth is exponential (doubling every minute)  the time at which the Petri dish is half full is 11:59am.   With just one more doubling, in the next minute, the Petri dish is completely full, at noon.

Anyone who perceives a linear rate of growth, but who is actually up against an exponential rate of growth, is likely to be very surprised at how the end comes very quickly and seemingly out of nowhere. They will be completely blindsided.

 

Generally it is healthy to be optimistic, but optimism can be deadly if it produces a Pollyannaish denial of real problems. We should not ignore ecological problems by assuming “someone else” will take care of it, or that “the free market” or “technological breakthroughs” will always come to the rescue in time. Solutions may not come in time, and we may get quite a rude Malthusian smack down later.

 

One example of resource depletion is the gradual depletion of fossil fuels, especially oil.  The amount of oil produced by a particular oil field, or a region, shows a regular pattern: first oil production increases, then it reaches a peak, and, finally, as the oil field begins to dry up, oil production starts to  decline.   World “peak oil” is when world oil production peaks, and then starts an inexorable decline as oil fields start to dry up.  Many experts believe that world oil production has already peaked, or that it will occur within the next few years. This presents us with a problem:  as of now, no combination of renewable energy sources can scale up quickly enough, or provide anywhere near the energy equivalent of oil.   We can anticipate that the world is about to enter a severe, worldwide energy shortage. Since food production is so dependent on energy production, following an energy famine will be a food famine.  Many poor people, especially in developing countries, will literally starve to death as oil energy depletes.

 

Optimists will be quick to rebut that shale oil has pushed oil production to record highs since Mills wrote this. I would remind those optimists that it took unprecedented zero percent interest rates, many trillions of unrepayable debt to force growth equal to only 25% of the debt, investors willing to pour money into unprofitable fracking companies, and a socially destabilizing increase in the wealth gap to achieve this increase in oil production.

 

The 1972 book Limits to Growth  also made some pretty frightening predictions back in 1972, as did the follow-up book in 2004  Limits to Growth: The 30 Year Update.  Using computer simulations, they predicted a world peak population around mid-century, followed by population decline.

Given that these predictions are now approaching 40 years old, how accurate were they?  Are they still on track today?

The analysis shows that 30 years of historical data compares favorably with key features… [of the Limits to Growth] ‘standard run’ scenario, which results in collapse of the global system midway through the 21st Century.”  To prevent this scenario, the Limits to Growth authors suggested that we must achieve ecological sustainability by 2022 to avoid serious ecological overshoot and population collapse.

Limits to Growth Predictions

 

Mills then gets to the meat of his essay:

Can evolutionary psychology provide insights to aid in our survival?

Can humans be “smarter than yeast?” Can we be the only species that can successfully anticipate and avoid ecological overshoot and collapse?  Issues of sustainability are psychological problems.  Are we sufficiently psychologically sophisticated to manage our own collective behavior to achieve sustainability on a finite planet?

One sobering answer provided by evolutionary psychology is that we, like all other species,  have no evolved psychological adaptations designed specifically to perceive, anticipate and avoid ecological overshoot. In fact, we have just the opposite.

One problem is that inclusive fitness, the “designer” of psychological adaptations, is always relative to others; it is not absolute.  That is, nature doesn’t “say,” “Have two kids (or help 4 full sibs), and then you can stop. Good job! You did your genetic duty, you avoided contributing to ecological overshoot, and you may pass along now…” Instead, nature “says” (relative inclusive fitness): “Out-reproduce your competitors. Your competitors are all of the genes in your species’ gene pool that you do not share. If the average inclusive fitness score is four, then you go for five… “In other words, our psychological adaptations are designed to not just “keep up with the Joneses” but to “do better than the Joneses.” This is in whatever means that may have generally helped to increase inclusive fitness, such as status, conspicuous consumption, and resource acquisition and control.

If we are to have a fighting chance to be “smarter than yeast,” we have to out-smart our own psychological adaptations; we have to “fool Mother Nature.” Garrett Harden recognized that the problem of ecological overshoot is the tragedy of the commons writ large.  He suggested that the way to solve the tragedy of the commons was “mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon by the majority of the people affected.”  That is, we must consent, collectively, to use our knowledge of our psychological adaptations to tweak them in the service of sustainability.

For example, we can use such knowledge to manipulate our own perceptions of status so that we actually compete to reduce our consumption of finite resources, such that we compete to “keep down with the Joneses.”

 

Mills thinks we can hack our behavior with psychological tricks if the majority of citizens understand our overshoot predicament and consent to being manipulated.

He then provides some examples of psychological techniques that have been, or could be, successful at changing human behaviors:

  • Foster competition (and status) for being more sustainable than your neighbors.
  • Manipulate women to prefer men with more sustainable lifestyles.
  • Use virtual reality to trick ourselves into treating all humans as if they belonged to our tribe.
  • Create psychological illusions that cause us to treat ecological issues as personal issues, and the entire planet as our tribal territory.
  • Use Public Service Announcements (PSAs) to change behaviors, like the successful campaign to promote seat belt use.

 

Mills concludes by saying we need a new sustainability movement that makes being a “consumerist” as toxic as being a “racist” or “sexist”.

A new social movement is needed – a sustainability movement.  This is particularly important for anyone who plans to live in the future. A grass-roots movement of the magnitude of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, and the women’s rights movement of the 1970s, is needed. Today no one wants to be called a racist or a sexist (but being called a “consumerist” does not yet sting). Those movements had clearly defined out-groups to vilify as the “enemy” — and that may have helped to mobilize and motivate activists.

But who is the enemy now?  There is no out-group. The enemy is us. We are fighting against ourselves — our base psychological adaptations to compete for relative status, mates and resources.  Evolutionary psychology can help by identifying which of our “psychological buttons” might be manipulated to promote sustainability.  But we must collectively agree to manipulate our psychological adaptations to attempt to “transcend” our self-ecocidal nature.  If we succeed, there may be a glimmer of hope of mitigating our own ecological overshoot, and the potential Malthusian nightmares of the future.

 

I like the creative ideas offered here by Mills and wish we would try them. Unfortunately it seems we must first find a way to break through our denial of overshoot reality before we can obtain the consent of citizens to be manipulated.

On the other hand, we allow ourselves to be manipulated every day without consent by the commercial advertisements and agenda driven media messages that crowd our daily lives. There’s a clear precedent here to proceed without consent.

Perhaps all we need is a wise government to get on with hacking our behavior to have fewer children and consume less.

But then we’d need a government that was not in denial, which means we’d have to elect genetic mutants, which I’ve proposed in the past.

Which brings us full circle to the core problem discussed many times on this blog:

Finding a way to pick our genetic reality denial lock is the key to any progress, and possibly the survival of our species. This is a hard lock to pick because denial of denial is the strongest form of denial.

I wish Mills would study Varki’s MORT theory and write another essay.

As an aside, check out the comments left by the readers of Mill’s essay. They offer a nice snapshot of the human belief system. Several intelligent people attempt to poke holes in Mill’s thesis, and Mills then calmly and rationally responds with the facts on why they are wrong. Not one reader changes their views. Not one reader stands up and says “great ideas, let’s try them”.

WASF

By Gail Zawacki: Why Are Climate Scientists Less Than Truthful?

what's a tipping point

Gail Zawacki is an important thinker, activist, and chronicler of human overshoot. You can find my favorite work by Gail here, and all of Gail’s work at her blog Wit’s End.

Gail’s largest contribution has been to bring attention to the worldwide decline of tree health due to the rising concentration of ground level ozone caused but most forms of industrial combustion.

Gail has also tackled many other topics including climate change. Eight years ago she wrote a leaflet to shame some climate change deniers, and to protest the dishonesty of climate scientists. Anyone with a functioning pair of eyes can see the dishonesty today, but eight years ago it was much less clear.

Today, despite increasingly ominous warnings from the scientists, we’re not taking climate change seriously. In fact, we’re making things much worse and doing absolutely nothing to reduce the threat.

Now layer on this the fact that climate scientists are still not being fully honest about the gravity of our situation and you will begin to understand my fascination with our tendency to deny unpleasant realities.

If the majority of us were somehow magically able to see the severity of our predicament, the required responses of austerity, conservation, and population reduction would not only seem reasonable, they would be the obvious things to do.

Unfortunately genetic behavior is a very powerful force.

Following is Zawacki’s protest leaflet extracted from an excellent essay she wrote about her experience attending a conference of climate change deniers.

https://witsendnj.blogspot.com/2011/07/beware-banality-of-evil-heartless-at.html

WHY ARE CLIMATE SCIENTISTS LESS THAN TRUTHFUL?

If you suspect that climate scientists aren’t being truthful, you would be correct. They are not leveling with us. Are they part of an alarmist conspiracy to embezzle government grants…furthering a plot to regulate, tax and destroy the American way of life?

Not exactly. (For one thing, the amount of money spent on climate research is trivial compared to the profits of the international oil, gas, coal and biofuel industries which are primarily causing climate change – and have oodles left over to fund a well-organized cadre of opposition.)

So, what secrets *are* those pesky climate scientists withholding?

Like doctors reluctant to diagnose a fatal cancer…THEY AREN’T TELLING US HOW BAD THE PROGNOSIS ACTUALLY IS. And why not? They have several inhibitions:

Reason #1. Scientists don’t want to jeopardize their careers by being branded hysterical or unprofessional. Traditional scientific reticence limits predictions researchers can prudently risk when their calculations are subject to complex uncertainties. Because they can’t accurately model the timing of delayed effects from system inertia, or the precise influences from positive amplifying feedbacks, they simply DON’T INCLUDE the most important variables and tipping points in consensus reports – like the albedo effect, and temporary aerosol cooling – even though they know climate change is provoking extremely violent storms, sea level rise, and desertification. And oops…they’ve completely left out of the equation the ramifications of ocean acidification leading to near total extinction of sea life (which produces much of our oxygen!).

Reason #2. Scientists mistrust public reaction. They are fearful that if it were widely recognized how inevitably and rapidly climate destabilization is occurring (and will accelerate exponentially), the majority of people would become resigned, depressed, and lose motivation to do anything about it…or worse – succumb to collective terror and derangement; and

Reason #3. Societal consequences are not in their purview. They know that only an urgent and drastic curtailment of emissions can mitigate the worst effects on society…and that imposing such harsh measures is politically impossible. Following natural laws rather than wishful thinking means that what is required is no less than a revolutionary change in modern lifestyles, including economic systems built on nonsensical faith in unlimited growth and unsustainable resource extraction. Issues such as government energy subsidies, corporate personhood, justice for climate refugees, prevention of famine and wars are foreign to the realm of atmospheric physics, and only the rare scientist has enough courage to venture into policy implications; and

Reason #4. Scientists are human and hope for the survival of their children too. They can’t believe how absurdly awful and inconceivable it is that humans have ignored consistent warnings from decades ago that releasing 90 million tons of greenhouse gases per day means we are knowingly and unnecessarily destroying the habitability of our only home, Earth. Like the most stubborn ideological deniers, many prefer to think the destruction of an environment hospitable to agriculture must be a preposterous nightmare – and that any minute, someone will pinch them and wake them up. They themselves don’t want to admit that

CATACLYSMIC CLIMATE CHANGE IS ALREADY BAKED IN THE CAKE!

What remains to be seen is how much more disastrous we allow it to become for future generations. The blog Wit’s End links to studies indicating exposure to toxic tropospheric ozone is killing trees – even faster than warming from CO2 (oh, yes indeed, no kidding – pollution is really killing trees! Go look carefully at some). We CAN and MUST stop that before the entire ecosystem that depends upon them enters irretrievable collapse.

By Tad Patzek: A Requiem for the Beautiful Earth

Tad Patzek

Tad Patzek is a professor of engineering working on the thermodynamics and ecology of human survival, and food and energy supply for humanity.

Because Patzek is an engineer, and not an economist, you can pretty much believe everything he says. 🙂

http://patzek-lifeitself.blogspot.com/2018/12/a-requiem-for-beautiful-earth.html

I like this essay he wrote last month, especially since he kicked it off talking about genetic reality denial.

First, let me remind you that a pessimist is an optimist who shed his delusions and denial, and educated himself. Please keep this in mind, if you continue reading. If you don’t, that’s fine too. You will remain in your blissful bubble of denial and ignorance, which are the dominant genetic traits of most denizens of the fossil superorganism. Please understand that many democratically elected governments know very well about your truth aversion and are making best use of it.

Patzek had some interesting things to say about the yellow vest uprising, and I’ve seen similar comments from other intelligent people who read between the lines, so I suspect there’s something to this speculation.

The French riots are directly related to the depletion of many resources, but specifically to the intermediate distillates (abbreviated here as the naphtha fraction) that are disappearing from the refinery feedstock crudes worldwide. The ultralight condensates produced from the US shale plays have none. Naphtha is the petroleum fraction from which diesel fuel is produced. Since almost all trucks run on diesel fuel, which one would you rather have: food and other goods in stores or an unrestricted supply of fuel to private diesel cars?

The fossil amoeba will never admit that she is limited by anything. She cannot violate her own principle of indiscriminate, eternal growth that will pay for the ginormous debt the rich took everywhere to bail themselves out. This debt is now sloshing around the world killing what remains of the healthy environment and speeding up the collapse of our civilization.

The detached Macron was manipulated into an environmentally friendly explanation: less emissions. Of course, this explanation is nonsensical, and it came on the heels of many real and perceived social injustices in France that span two decades or more. To make things worse, air quality has become so bad in most places that ships will have to use low-sulfur fuel, which will further increase demand on the heavy naphtha fraction. Aviation too is growing everywhere to move people and goods across the global economy (soon to be discontinued). Jet fuel, which is essentially diesel fuel, also competes with your poor little diesel car. Finally, please do not forget that heating oil you use to avoid freezing in winter, is diesel fuel that is a little heavier.

Patzek also provided a nice take on “You know you are in trouble when…

Meanwhile, at every step, humanity has become more destructive to Earth’s ecosystems. I see no trend that we are solving more problems than we are creating. When the techno-optimists hail future “solutions,” I’m reminded that all the problems we face today are the results of earlier “solutions,” and all the solutions of today are creating new problems.

I know you know all this, but it’s worth saying: There are no significant ecological trend lines that are getting better for the ecosystems:

  • Human population is growing, getting worse
  • Human livestock population is growing, getting worse
  • Human consumption is increasing, getting worse for all but the consumers
  • Human ecological and war-victim refugees are increasing, getting worse
  • Toxin load in biological systems is growing, getting worse
  • Wild flora / fauna diversity is shrinking, getting worse
  • Aquifers, and all freshwater resources  are shrinking, getting worse
  • CO2 content in atmosphere is increasing, getting worse for existing biodiversity
  • Acid content of oceans is increasing, getting worse
  • Human economic unpayable debt load (fake energy, fake “growth”) is increasing, getting worse
  • Quality and availability of every critical resource are shrinking, making these resources more expensive and more destructive to recover
  • Net energy from energy resources is shrinking
  • Habitats and food for wild fauna are shrinking
  • Carbon and nutrient content of arable soils are shrinking
  • Nitrogen and Phosphorus cycles are disrupted and concentrated, creating dead lakes and dead ocean zones
  • Coral bed sea-life nurseries are shrinking
  • Tropical forest terrestrial nurseries are shrinking
  • Estuaries are shrinking
  • Ponzi schemes, stock swindles, and scams are increasing in frequency and monetary value
  • Forest fires and violent storms are increasing with CO2 and heating
  • War budgets are increasing,  etc.

And what, pray-tell, is offsetting this Earth balance sheet asset collapse? Windmills? Solar panels? Carbon capture? Artificial intelligence? A few rich humans getting richer? Computer chip processing speeds increasing? Video conferences?  “Smart” bombs?

No, whenever I doubt we are right about collapse, I take stock of this large-scale Earth balance sheet and must conclude again that human enterprise itself is a giant Ponzi scheme, plundering the mother that gave birth to us, high-grading every resource, squandering the riches for idle pleasures, and leaving behind a smoldering, toxic trail.

There’s more good stuff in his essay so you should check out the whole thing.

But wait, there’s more…

Here’s Patzek explaining why industrial agriculture (i.e. our food supply) will collapse within a few decades…

Here’s Patzek speaking about the unpleasant reality of climate change…

Here’s Patzek talking about how we could and should make do with less…

Here’s Patzek discussing authentic recycling…

 

On Meaning

What Gives You Meaning?

I’m an atheist without a supernatural bone in my body. When I die my “spirit” will extinguish into nothing forever.

This reality does not trouble me or cause me to wish that I denied death with some form of religion or spirituality, as do most of my 8 billion close cousins.

Given that I’m a mutant with defective reality denial genes, and therefore have nothing to look forward to beyond my brief life, how do I find meaning?

I find meaning by studying the origin of life on a rare planet, with its improbable evolution of complex life, and the singular emergence of a species with an extended theory of mind, and the improbability of being a member of that species alive at the peak of a brief 200 year period (out of 4,000,000,000) when we leveraged an improbable store of photosynthetically generated hydrocarbons to advance scientific knowledge and technology.

The fact that I’m writing this, and you’re reading this, is cause for awe and thankfulness.

Meaning comes from understanding why we can understand there is no meaning.

By Tom Lewis: It’s Too Late to Brace for Impact

Abrupt Climate Change

A succinct climate change status report by Tom Lewis…

Here, in the 18th year of the New Millennium, the 28th Year of Our Internet (delivering unlimited information to all), and the 30th year of the Great Harangue over Climate Change (dating it from James Hansen’s testimony to the Senate), this is where we are:

  • The world’s emissions of greenhouse gases — the kinds of pollution that trap solar radiation like greenhouse windows and heat the climate — not only increased in 2018, but increased faster, setting a new all time record — despite the wildly hyped growth of “renewable” energy sources — according to two new studies published last week. Scientists said the emissions’ growth and the resulting acceleration of climate change, resembles a “speeding freight train.”  
  • The world’s people bought more cars, and drove them farther, in 2018 than in any year in history, driving oil consumption up for the fifth consecutive year despite the advent of hybrid and electric vehicles.
  • In November the Trump White House published findings by 13 Federal agencies and hundreds of scientists concluding that climate change is well under way and will cost the economy hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century. Never mind the millions of deaths, the migrations, the homelessness, the dislocations — we have to put a dollar value on it to pay any attention to it. Asked what he thought of the report, President Trump said “I don’t believe it.”
  • In October the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued an alarming report warning that greenhouse gas emissions are rising so fast that they will cause widespread food shortages, wildfires, coastal flooding and population displacement, not by the end of the century, but by 2040. One of the latest studies — the “speeding freight train” one — says all those effects may be seen by 2030. That would be just over 11 years from now
  • Last week, the Climate Change Conference meeting in Poland — this is among other things the conference of 200 nations that agreed to and is trying to implement the Paris Agreement on how to combat climate change — refused to adopt the October IPCC report on objections by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait. Thus what one major international UN organization had concluded about the facts of climate change were deliberately ignored by another major international UN organization working on climate change.
  • Last week, France cancelled a planned increase in taxation of fossil fuels, part of a four year effort to reduce carbon emissions and slow global warming. Carbon taxes have long been advocated as one of the few effective things government could do to reduce emissions. The prospect of this tax ignited violent protests by thousands of so-called “yellow vest” demonstrators who threatened to destabilize the country, and continue to do so after the cancellation of the fuel tax.

The secretary general of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, told the climate change conference in Poland now in session, “We are in trouble. We are in deep trouble with climate change.” He went on to say, as hundreds of scientists and bureaucrats before him have said, that we are not doing enough. But he’s dead wrong about that. We are not doing anything. We are making it worse, faster. In part by jetting hundreds and thousands of people hither and yon around the world to conduct endless air-conditioned meetings on what we might think about doing, if we were ever going to do anything.

Here’s how I would put it: forget Brace for Impact, it’s way too late for that. What we need to do now, collectively, is bend over, take a firm grip on our knees, and …. well, you know the rest.

h/t Ian Graham & Kevin Hester

http://www.dailyimpact.net/2018/12/10/its-too-late-to-brace-for-impact/

By Gail Zawacki: Diva of Doom Interview

I’m a long-time admirer of the intellect and work of Gail Zawacki, the self-described Diva of Doom. You can find some of my favorites by Gail that I’ve posted here, and all of Gail’s work at her blog Wit’s End.

Here in a new 60 minute interview with Sam Mitchell, Gail provides an articulate description of the what and why of our overshoot predicament, and concludes with some wise advice on what to do about it:

Enjoy every good day that remains.