Posted by: ericgrimsrud | December 4, 2017

Changing the discussion from mere climate change to extinction

Let’s face it. With the benefit of hind sight, the ultimate fate of human beings on this planet appears to have been set a couple hundred years ago when new machines and a powerful means of driving them were discovered. Fossil fuels then ignited the Industrial Revolution and the Haber–Bosch process (for making nitrogen-based fertilizers) unleashed the human population bomb. And since then nothing has been able to stop the deadly carbon feedback loop that resulted – not even decades of scientific research and warnings.

Much like our primate ancestors, modern humans are prone to ignore threats that are not immediate or local. The global ecological overshoot which then follows is not readily recognized by the lay public. After all, global warming is caused by invisible greenhouse gases and the rate of its warming is retarded by the thermal inertia of the Earth which is quite large. Things change, but not overnight. All of this creates an under-the-radar threat that gradually undermines both our reasoning and responses. The Earth is not infinitely large, however, and now even the lay public knows that we are running up against its limits.

Still, in spite of this knowledge, humanity continues to follow the same old biological script of overshoot and collapse always seen in other organisms from bacteria to lemmings to caribou and elephants. Fossil fuels are enabling a different level of destructive overshoot, however, that will be a million-fold greater, culminating in one final and spectacular explosion of our “powder keg” Earth (see post by this name in archives of January 2017). As our temperature rises, these events can be expected to render our planet unsuitable for thousands of species, including ours.

Unfortunately, open-ended growth appears to be inherent in all of nature – I doubt that any species has ever learned how to limit its own population by his own initiative. We also know, however, that any species that transcends its environmental resources cannot survive. Mother Nature will invariably “take care of them”, so to speak.

The beauty and wonder of this planet is presently being trashed by the most recent version of primates of whose cleverness in tool-building and energy generation has far outstripped its ability to handle their environmental effects. Add in the development of mass consumerism, planned obsolescence, and the hypnosis of corporate-sponsored TV promoting unsustainable lifestyles and you have a passive, malleable population happily marching towards the abyss of climate instability. What me worry? No way! I am too busy keeping up with the vast opportunities provided by our business-as-usual high-carbon-footprint lifestyles.

It comes as no surprise that we have been taken in by a bankruptcy artists who dabbled in Reality TV. In addition, every one of Trump’s cabinet picks is a big middle finger in the faces of all of us, including those who fell for his pseudo-populist rhetoric. Only billionaires, Wall Street sharks and hardcore laissez-faire capitalists might happen to like what is happening as they seek to deregulate and privatize every last bit of what remains. The allure of capitalism for the gullible masses has always been that you’re just one lucky break away from becoming one of fat cats.

President Trump is thus the living proof of the ongoing breakdown of our social system. He gets most of his numerical support by playing on the fantasies of those among the white classes of all financial levels who resent the gains made in recent decades by minority groups. He unnecessarily pokes his nose into minor disputes, such as the taking of a knee prior to football games, in order to increase racial hatred. His popularity among his core supporters is enhanced by his Third-Reich-like misrepresentations of his imagined villains, including immigrants, persons who happen to be of the Muslim faith, social progressives, and those of the free press who resist his authoritarian tendencies. President Trump is serving in an era of global resource depletion and environmental degradation and on that front is doing his best to ensure that those who are primarily responsible for this decay are not held accountable.

Free market ideologues are generally either climate “agnostics” or downright “deniers” because acknowledging the reality of human-induced climate change would be an admission that industry must be curtailed or controlled. Left-leaning people generally accept the science partially because it goes along with their criticisms of capitalism which externalizes social and environmental costs for the benefit of the few at the top of the economic hierarchy. Thus, we see parasitic Trump surrounding himself with right-wing, climate denying, fossil fuel corporatists and insiders who will be doing everything in their power to dismantle health and environmental regulations as well as social services – all of which are viewed by them to be barriers to capitalist expansion.

Perhaps our chance of developing a sustainable culture already passed us by some time ago. People will try to adapt until they cannot and then myths will be created to explain away the harsh realities. That appears to be the phase we are now in. Corporate America does a great job in comforting us by claiming that they are on top of it all and that the future will be bright as long as our regulatory forces are kept at bay. Even the administrations of our universities and colleges, from which most of our understanding of global warming has come, do not have the wisdom and courage required to make a strong public stand. Instead, almost all of them still insist that their endowment funds remain invested in the fossil fuel industries. Their greatest fear is that the large donations they regularly receive from those industries might be terminated if they become climate change activists.

Thus, I sadly suspect that a chaotic future with all of its horrific glory is awaiting us: complete with locked-in biosphere collapse, the irreconcilable contradictions of techno-capitalism, a dysfunctional political system, and a populous that is blind to the bigger picture. Our planet is now home to about 7 billion people. Growing at a rate of 200,000 per day, it will be home to about 9 billion by midcentury – unless Mother Nature has other ideas. And unfortunately, our large numbers are not a safeguard from extinction. In fact, it works the other way and that appears to be where we are headed.

I recognize that what I am saying here is hard for to swallow. And for that very reason, most are not swallowing it and instead, are choosing to enter into what I have called the “pretend world” (see my previous post in October of 2017). There are countless programs that will help you with this transition – including the “Studies Abroad” programs of St. Olaf College that are described in that same post. A multitude of commercial and academic programs such as these offer unlimited opportunities to travel the world via CO2-emitting aircraft in order to learn more about the wonderful world the organizers assume will always be there – in spite of the damage these very same programs are doing to it. So, if you wish to enter this pretend world, you will have lots of company and can “enjoy the party” while it lasts. Your photos might be among the last taken around the world prior to the great ecological crash that many scientists believe is just around the corner (again see post of October 2017 cited above).

If Charles Darwin was alive today and asked if the human species merited survival into the next century, I suspect he would vote thumbs down and point out the obvious: why have humans not made better use of their brains which were reported to be the best the Earth has ever seen. It would indeed be somewhat embarrassing if homo sapiens turned out to last such a short time on this planet while the pea-brained dinosaurs lasted a couple hundred million years until they were finally brought down by a sudden change in our atmosphere caused an event beyond their control and not of their making. The self-inflicted termination of the human era will demonstrate the danger of using only that part of our intelligence that served our immediate gratifications.


Responses

  1. Eric,
    The human race is headed for extinction but not for the reasons you imagine. Do you really think we are somehow the top of the evolutionary pyramid?

    Read Tegmark’s “Life 3.0” and then share your comments with your fans. Will super-intelligences treat us like pets or like cockroaches?


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