The concise modern history of the Fire Ape, also known as Homo
Sapiens Oblivion Oblivious.
Thanks to Tim Watkins for finding this graphic.
The concise modern history of the Fire Ape, also known as Homo
Sapiens Oblivion Oblivious.
Thanks to Tim Watkins for finding this graphic.
Notice the tight correlation between CO2 emissions per person and standard of living:
That’s not a coincidence as physicist Tim Garrett has explained:
So if we ever decide to do something effective about climate change (assuming it’s not already too late due to self-reinforcing feedback loops) then that solution must include some combination of a lower standard of living and a lower population.
When was the last time you heard a leader or climate scientist speak with such clarity?
Probably never because most are in denial as explained by Ajit Varki’s theory:
Unfortunately, reducing our standard of living is not as simple as tightening our belts because of the large amount of debt we use to support our lifestyles and economy.
Contraction means a depression at best, and more likely some form of crash:
So the choice is severe economic hardship from a voluntary contraction, or collapse and possible extinction from climate change.
But it’s not so simple.
Our lifestyle and economy is totally dependent on burning non-renewable fossil carbon and we have already depleted the best low-cost reserves:
The best minds predict we will have 50% less oil to burn in 10 years:
This means our lifestyles and economy will contract soon no matter what we choose to do.
So the real choice is do we want to try to control our decline in a civil and humane manner, or do we want to let nature force an uncivil and inhumane decline?
The correct choice seems obvious:
The correct choice is even more clear when you consider the many other negative side effects of human overshoot besides climate change:
But of course there is no choice because we are collectively unable to acknowledge or discuss our predicament due to the denial of reality behavior that enabled our unique brain:
Which probably explains why we have found no other intelligent life in the universe:
It’s also probable that complex multicellular life, like plants and animals, is extremely rare in the universe because it depends on a rare “accident” to create the eukaryotic cell:
Which means our planet really is special.
And you reading and understanding this essay is a miracle, but we don’t need God to explain this miracle, just physics and biology, plus billions of years and trillions of planets to enable several low probability events to occur:
To sum all of this up, if you have the rare ability to break through the human tendency to deny reality, then you should be in awe of being alive to witness and understand this rare event in the universe, and you should be grateful for the good food and other comforts we enjoy.
Felt like yelling at the TV tonight.
Watched a documentary on the GMO debate.
Both sides passionate and entrenched.
One side not trusting corporate science and worried about health risks.
The other side wanting peer-reviewed science to inform decisions.
Neither side seeing or discussing the real risks.
When oil depletion collapses the economy we’ll need seeds that are not dependent on a high technology global supply chain.
And we’ll need seeds adapted to a rapidly changing local climate.
And food will be mostly organic, regardless of preference, because there won’t be pesticides, or herbicides, or Haber-Bosch factory fertilizer available.
And we’ll be grateful for calories regardless of what they are, or how they’re grown.
And we’ll marvel at the energy we wasted on irrelevant issues as we go to bed early with sore muscles from working all day in the fields.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂
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…