Habitat - Reflecting on anthropogenic climate change and near-term extinction

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Reflecting on anthropogenic climate change and near-term extinction

by Seemorerocks

I have been in the habit of collecting news stories that tend to support what I have come to describe as the collapse of human and industrial society.

I have often been asked why I do it, and doesn’t it make me depressed to be dwelling in so much negativity? My answer has always been that I couldn’t live with myself (that’s a nonsensical statement if ever there was one!) if I didn’t confront this head on.

What has made it easier is to treat it all a bit like the martial arts - to accept the information and then reflect it back out (in a more concentrated form) into the universe.

When I started this blog about 2 years ago it was all about collecting stories about Peak Oil and the collapsing economy, and encouraging people develop strategies for themselves, their families, and, first and foremost, their communities, to make them become more resilient and to transition to a post-carbon economy.

Two years later the world economy is still dragging itself along, still on the point of collapse, but things have become incomparably worse. The stories have become shriller and more frequent - yelling out that this cannot continue; something’s got to give.

Near term human extinction

While all these ‘old’ processes have not gone away it is hard to escape the reality that what we have now is runaway global warming with numerous non-linear, irreversible processes - positive feedback loops that ensure, in essence that ‘The hotter it gets the faster it gets hotter, and the faster it gets hotter the more....’ etc.

In the last weeks (since the onset of the northern summer) we have seen events whereby we seem to be watching the break-up of the Arctic ice in real time, and a series of truly horrifying extreme weather events around the globe simultaneously


Now, it seems to me, the narrative has to be changed from building sustainable communities to acknowledging that humanity is on a suicidal mission and the greatest likelihood is that we (along with the rest of life) are heading for near-term extinction.

So much so that it now has an acronym of its own - NTE.

Living with denial

I woke up this morning after listening to Guy McPherson’s interview with Doomstead Diner for the second time, with a strong need to make a tactical retreat and to process for myself what this really means.

There are various ways that we can process this.

One is to totally ignore reality and take refuge in the lies and distractions of mainstream, corporate media. Along with usually comes an unconscious anger at having one’s comfortable view of life challenged by the likes of you or I.

It is highly likely that as things get worse this anger will take on more violent forms.

These are the people that become the foot soldiers of fascism, who will invariably blame the victims and look for the reasons for their predicament anywhere other than where they should.

I genuinely fear the strength and violence of this reaction.

There are others who will take refuge in a liberal view that also paints a largely false picture.

The huge chasm between the cloying rhetoric of Obama and the reality of his administration stands out as well as the nonsense of the liberal media that takes the rhetoric for fact and ignores the reality.

When it comes to climate change the majority of those who recognise its reality will follow the ‘official line’ which paints a ‘frightening’, but false picture of linear change.

"The oceans will rise and the world will get hotter - but not in our lifetime".

Mainstream media, science and the IPCC

I have become somewhat used to the distortions of the media. 

In this country (NZ) there seems to be a complete taboo agaInst dealing with the realities of climate change other than in brief items that see things in isolation from the global context and the reality on the ground. 

I should have been a bit more realistic in my expectations that the stark realities of rapid sea ice melting and of methane release (along with all the other feedbacks) would be reflected somewhere in mainstream science

But it turns out, they haven't.

The actual observations of scientists working in the Arctic (and the Antarctic) has long overtaken the computer projections of mainstream science. David Wasdell of the Apollo-Gaia Programme in the UK, in his excellent presentation on Arctic feedback mechanisms, makes it clear how wide the gulf between reality and the computer models of the IPCC.


I have always been aware of the inherent conservativeness of scientists and their tendency to become locked in their own specialities (and thus avoid the 'Bigger Picture'). 

Regarding the IPCC, it is an international body and so is subject, not only to all this but also to considerable political pressures from member states who can literally veto any conclusions they don’t like. 

It is science by consensus.

Why would an elite that is suppressing the realities of economic breakdown and of Peak Oil (and resource depletion in general) be interested in having an informed public that is aware of the dangers of runaway climate change?  Why would they be interested in having people aware of ecological collapse - the extinction of 200+ species a day -  and the predicament of having 430 + nuclear installations that are past their use-by date and subject, at any time to catastrophic meltdown?

'The Pleasures of Extinction'

Another form of denial is illustrated by recent article, the Pleasures of Extinction
by John Michael Greer, who, I understand specialises in questions of Peak Oil.

His, in many ways, admirable essay points out how many times predictions of Armageddon have proved to be false and discusses the important role fundamentalism has played in the history of the United States.

However, without addressing the sound scientific base behind the conclusions, he attacks Guy McPherson without naming him, and refers to near-term extinction as 'the latest apocalyptic fad'.

Fantasies of imminent human extinction are one comforting if futile response to this ugly predicament. If you want a justification for living as though there’s no tomorrow, insisting that in fact, there’s no tomorrow is certainly one option”

As if the conclusions of McPherson and others was just one more example of an apocalyptic cult, instead of being based on sound science.

I did not come across a single scientific or factual argument in his article to counter Guy McPherson's argument.

In a subsequent article he talks about a thermostat mechanism and 'negative feedbacks' without, I suspect, understanding (at least in the context of climate science), what this means.


When we contemplate increases in global temperature of 1, 2...4C, it is easy to think there is nothing special in that. After all the human species can withstand wide variations in temperature, and I experience much greater variations when I step outside.

The clear answer came from Guy McPherson in his recent interview with Doomstead Diner

The answer is not in the temperature per se, but in habitat.

We are already seeing loss of human habitat from processes such as desertification and from ecological disasters such as the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico; from Fukushima. We are seeing acidification of the world's oceans and increases in dead (anoxic) zones.

Increases in temperatures that we are already seeing, and future increases from concentrations of 400+ ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere (actually much more, thanks to releases of methane from the permafrost and methane clathrates in the Arctic and Antarctic), mean that we will see huge changes in the range of temperatures.

Already we are seeing that in recent climatic events such as the heatwave in Alaska and Siberia, where temperatures went from freezing to 90F in the space of 50 hours.

What happens to humans and their habitat in these conditions, especially with energy collapse when we won't simply be able to turn on the air conditioning any more?

We will then have to live with the 'new abnormal'

Prolonged exposure to temperatures more than 95F and we lose our ability to thermoregulate. In the words of Guy McPherson 'in the short term we're dead'.

When the temperatures go from freezing to 100F in the space of 2 days how is our permaculture garden going to survive. At a certain temperature protein starts to denature.

I would contend this means we will lose our ability to feed ourselves quite quickly - let alone the ability to feed 7 billion people.

No sane person would wish for the extinction of life on this planet, (still less make afad of it), but no intellectual argument is going to make the problem go away any more than collectively burying our heads in the sand.

The first thing we need to do is to accept the evidence.

If you are going to argue please do it on the basis of facts and evidence. 

Tell the climate scientists they are wrong; tell the polar ice scientists that their measurements are wrong and the volume of Arctic sea ice has not decreased by 80 per cent. 

And please bring some evidence along with you to refute the facts.

Living with uncertainty

Once we have accepted the evidence we have to work out how we are going to respond - another stage of round through K├╝bler-Ross' five stages of grief?

It's not just accepting near-term extinction. 

It's a probability, not a fact.

Perhaps we need to learn how to live with uncertainty.

That for me, at least, is harder.

A common argument against dealing with the facts is to say that people are incapable of doing so, so we should only give them such facts as they can deal with. And always leave room for Hope. 

Always Hope!

To me that equates roughly with lying.

And to the perennial objection that the only possible reactions are to fall into the most abject depression or to become a hedonist and party our way to oblivion.

To the latter, Guy McPherson had the perfect response.

Given the way that most of us in the developed world lead our lives it is impossible to distinguish how living as a hedonist could be distinguished from the way we are already living our lives.

And regarding depression, does that have to be terminal? Can't we move from denial to anger, to depression through to acceptance?

What about looking reality directly in the eye - without blinking.

For me that is the only way of living my life.

For a summary and update on climate change by Guy McPherson  GO HERE

PS - I put the following question to Guy McPherson

Q: All the media talks about is sea level rise and do not talk about changes to the human habitat. You don't talk much about sea level. Is this because the sea level changes could be slower than other changes that will finish us off, like extreme heat, acidification and general inability to produce food?

Or is it just one more factor?

A: Sea level lags well behind the changes in habitat that will kill most of us. The exceptions are small islands.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Coming to terms with a melting Pole

Today is a beautiful, late winter day in Wellington

The sun is shining and there is no wind. True, it is a little warmer than perhaps it should be; true last night there was another strong 5.4 aftershock, but one would be forgiven for thinking that everything is as it should be.

Instead the last few days have been momentous.

Yesterday a photo came out, the last of sequence of shots from the North Pole that show the transformation from an icy wilderness, to large melt pools around the camera, until finally the camera appears surrounded by water.

I suspect that although is photo has made it into but a small part of the media, probably relegated to the back pages (and in this part of the world goes completely unmentioned, this photo will turn out to be the one photo that defines the early years of the 21st century.

If you have not watched it yet I suggest you watch this sequence of photos from the Pole.

We are used to hearing about climate change being a process that occurs in decades and always threatens us some time in the future.

However, to the few that have bothered to follow the story this has been like watching the sage in real time.

I now have some concept of what non-linear, exponential change looks like.

What a year!

For those of us not directly involved in events it seems an age since 'super-storm' Sandy ravaged New York, then the unprecedented drought and wildfires in Australia - that required the weathermen to come up with a new color to represent the record high temperatures recorded.

In my own backyard we had a drought that turned out to be the most serious since 1944, in which the Wellington area, normally thought of as well-endowed, almost ran out of water.

Since then hardly a day goes by when I have not recorded some terrible extreme weather event that is happening somewhere in the world.

How many still go unrecorded.  It is almost a full-time occupation.

I have managed by keeping going, just recording things as I find them with a dogged determination that people should not be kept in the dark but be informed of what is happening with this splendid planet of ours.

When I stop I usually feel exhausted, but as I sit in front of the computer following leads and transferring stories onto my blog I feel energised.

But after yesterday I felt the necessity to stop and reflect on what is happening and how this affects me.

Yesterday after a morning on the computer I drove out with my partner the 25 km to get beyond the city and into the backblocks that we are blessed with here to check up on our horses.

When you see this photo I'm sure you'll know what I mean.

That's me with my horse Biscuit.

The only way I can get up that high these days is for Biscuit to take me there, which he's quite happy to do for me.

On the way out I felt immense sadness and it was hard to divest myself of thoughts about positive feedbacks, trigger points and melting ice.

However, when we arrived and walked up the short distance to get the horses I was met by Biscuit who whickered and walked towards me.  For any of you who know horses you will be aware that this is the equine equivalent of being jumped on and licked all over by a dog.

It was enough to melt away the negativity and bring me to the Present and an awareness of the amazing beauty of Nature.

For a while it was untinged by thoughts of how we are killing it.

It simply was.  

For those of us that make the effort, we've all got to individually come to terms with  these momentous changes we are witnessing - with what it means for us personally, collectively and as a living planet.

It requires coming to terms with ourselves, what it means to be human and - ultimately - to reflect on our mortality.

In this respect, I feel blessed that I spent some of my earlier years studying Buddhism and learning meditation.

What comes through from that is 'taking refuge' or being at peace with the way things are.

Another way of approaching it might be to contemplate this photo of earth taken from the edge of the solar system

It gives a wonderful perspective of our own importance in the grand scheme of things, doesn't it?

Since yesterday I have seen reactions to our photo series, that runs from outright denial - such as saying its a fabrication of the media (sic), even though, as of now, the media has yet to touch it, through depression, anger and bargaining.

This one really struck me.  It was pointed out that there's really nothing to get excited about because, it seems,  the pictures were not taken at the North Pole. The cameras have moved 350 km.  

Well, maybe the cameras have got up and walked the distance, although I suspect there might be other explanations such as ocean currents or the fact that the pole seems no longer to sit on ice.

I don't know. I'm not a scientist.

Then, we're told this is all quite regular and routine - that the Arctic experiences melt pools every year.

From the photo above I'm not sure if I would be game to walk forward with my waders - they're welcome to try.

Somehow this all seems to ignore some basic facts, such as that ice thickness at the pole (0-1 metres) was thinner than surrounding areas.

Due to a 'mangled' jet stream the Northern hemisphere has seen record high  temperatures

The Arctic has experienced temperatures that are unprecedented. I'm sure the 80+F that Norilsk has seen in recent days would melt anything.

What about the wildfires raging right through the taiga in Siberia and Northern Canada?

Or the warm, dark water flowing into the sea from Canadian floods?

Or any number of feedbacks?

Perhaps it might be better just to keep your head in the sand or if confronted with reality that you can't avoid, explain it away, express righteous anger at the messenger?  Whatever you do, for God's sake - keep to separate factoids. Don't allow any connections be made!


For myself I believe it may be better to avoid trying to argue whether the world is going to be saved by permaculture or whether we are headed for near-term human extinction within a couple of decades.

The reality is that the computer modelling that is still being spewed out in the same week as we witnessed a melting pole and an Arctic cyclone that is sure to have further degraded the ice shelf.

To me it seems reasonable to conclude that at least 15 irreversible positive feedbacks have been unleashed.

That means that we already have runaway climate change.

it also indicates that the most pessimistic of the pessimists will turn out to have been proven correct.

I would be listening to what Guy McPherson, RobertscribblerPaul Beckwith and others from the Arctic Methane Emergency Group are saying.

I'm not going to be the one to say it - I simply don't know,

But if you ask me I would say it is quite probable that, in the immortal words of Guy McPherson, "We're done"

PS. It hasn't  taken the deniers long to come back with their sarcastic nonsense

"Yesterday, our friends were hysterical about a six inch deep pool of water which had accumulated around a buoy 350 km from the pole. They thought that bears were going to drown in it.

"Fortunately, the life guard drained the pool."

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