The Road to Nowhere

SUBHEAD: Only by terminating the world’s industrial economy is there any hope for the future of our own species.

By Guy McPherson on 1 December 2010 in Transition Voice -  

Image above: Firestorm on 10/25/03 in San Bernardino, CA burned several hundred homes. From ( 
When I wrote about the topic of global climate change in this space a mere two months ago, the situation was dire.

Each of a series of assessments indicated an increasingly disturbing outcome for global average temperature. The latest of those assessments, based on more data and more sophisticated models than prior efforts, suggest we have passed tipping points that may lead to the extinction of our own species, along with many others. A global average increase of two degrees Celsius likely leads to runaway greenhouse. This means destruction of most human habitat on Earth.

About six weeks after my brief review graced Transition Voice, the situation took a turn for the worse. The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook was released in early November. It contains a shocking assessment: We’re headed for a global average temperature increase of 3.5 C by 2035. If an increase of two degrees spells runaway greenhouse, you can bet the consequences of a 3.5 degree increase within 25 years is catastrophic.

The upside

On the other hand, I also pointed out unexpectedly good news in my previous essay. Completion of the ongoing collapse of the world’s industrial economy might prove sufficient to save the planet and us.

Although climate-change assessments fail to incorporate positive geo-physical feedbacks such as the release of methane hydrates and decreased albedo, they also leave out the negative feedback of world economic collapse. Yet it appears a single path — collapse of the world’s industrial economy — allows us to avoid runaway greenhouse and the associated extinction of Homo Sapiens.

Fortunately for us, we’re inadvertently following that path.

Assuming we transition from economic collapse to economic growth or to a steady-state economy, what are the likely outcomes?

If we could wrest control of policy from the corporations who currently run the government, what choices would be wisest?

What are the costs and consequences of choosing to pursue action on the climate-change front?

Two roads diverged

First, let’s consider two simple outcomes associated with the no-action alternative to which federal and state governments are firmly committed: (1) runaway climate change and (2) no significant change in climate.

If climate change turns out to be as dire as predicted, then pursuing the current no-action path leads to probable extinction of human life on Earth. First, though, we will cause mass human suffering by destroying our ability to grow food. We’ll also continue to cause the extinction of several hundred species daily. But never mind the non-human species we’re driving to extinction.

After all, we’ve never expressed serious interest in them in the past. Instead let’s focus on the ability to produce food for our large and growing human population.

Gleaning the truth

Many people assume food-producing regions will change locations as the planet heats up. If we can no longer produce grains in the Midwestern US, these folks believe, we’ll simply move the great American breadbasket further north.

This would turn Canada into a food-producing superpower. Unfortunately, however, that’s an unlikely outcome. Canadian soils are no match for the deep, organic-rich soils of the American Midwest. Climate might be favorable for crop production as Canada warms, but grossly inadequate soil isn’t.

If climate chaos turns out to be a false alarm then the path of non action appears to be the correct one. We don’t have to make big economic sacrifices on behalf of an ambiguous future if Earth can tolerate infinite carbon emissions.

This tidbit of good news comes with a warning, however. At some point, the thousands of species we’re driving to extinction catches up with us. At some point, wiping out the pollinators, decomposers, and direct sources of our food turns out badly. We depend on other species for our own survival in ways we barely understand.

I’ll not make the ethical case for saving non-human species because I don’t know a dozen people in the industrialized world who care about them. But I’ll make a selfish one: we need those species for our own survival.

As with the no-action alternative, simplistically I will address two outcomes associated with the “take-action” side of the climate-change issue.

If we take significant action — which at this point probably entails allowing complete collapse of the world’s industrial economy — and climate change turns out to have been a hoax, then we’ve obviously made a horrible mistake by terminating the dream of never-ending economic growth.
We will have destroyed the potential for every high school student in the US to spend a summer in Europe for immersion in another culture (sic).

We will have caused economic hardship that will lead to destruction of the social safety net upon which we’ve come to depend. We will have caused people in industrialized countries to forgo fuel at gas stations, food at grocery stores, and water coming out of the municipal taps.

This scenario sounds horrific. But in fact, it’s nirvāna.

Pull the plug, save the patient

Only by terminating the world’s industrial economy is there any hope for the thousands of species we drive to extinction every year.

Only by terminating the world’s industrial economy is there any hope for the people in non-industrialized countries we oppress to prop up economic growth in the “developed” world. As a consequence, only by terminating the world’s industrial economy is there any hope for the future of our own species to squeeze through the Sixth Great Extinction.

The second outcome, if we take action, is the potential for averting runaway greenhouse. Please read the prior paragraph again. All the benefits listed there are realized anew in light of the ongoing and accelerating climate-change apocalypse.

Further, averting climate chaos, if it’s possible at this late date, spares us environmental catastrophe in the near term. Averting climate chaos, if it’s possible at this late date, spares us catastrophic hurricanes, wildfires, floods, dust bowls, famines, epidemics, and climate refugees. Averting climate chaos, if it’s possible at this late date, spares us miserable lives and untimely deaths for the 205,000 new people we add each day to an overshot planet.

Resistance against the imperialism of never-ending economic growth is imperative, and not merely for our privileges. Our very survival as a species hangs in the balance. For those of us young enough to anticipate being alive in 2035, our survival as individuals is at stake.

We're Toast  

By Guy McPherson on 1 December 2010 in Nature Bats Last - 
When people tell me the dire messages about which I write don’t resonate with other people, I struggle with a coherent response. Would you prefer continued overshoot on an overshot planet? Would you prefer we keep heating our overheated home? Would you prefer we ignore the most important issues in the history of our species? Party on, brothers and sisters, when you bother to extract your head from
your assthe sand. As long as we ignore reality, it’ll all be fine.

And then, there’s reality. I’ll go there. You’ve been warned.

We’re irrevocably broke. I’ve made that announcement before. Finally, though, mainstream financial analysts are joining the party of reality.

Perhaps our individual and collective bankruptcy (of every kind) explains why 79.6% of respondents to a Scientific American poll are unwilling to forgo even a single penny to forestall the risk of catastrophic climate change. Scientific American readers undoubtedly are better informed than the general populace. And yet they won’t pay a thing to avoid extinction of our species. Kinda makes you warm and fuzzy all over, doesn’t it?

At the request of corporate CEOs and their minions, high-level politicians, we’ll spend, spend, spend to keep propping up the industrial economy that is making us crazy and killing us.

Far be it for me to suggest those CEOs and politicians are killing us directly — I’ll leave that charge to others — but there is no doubt this system is destroying every aspect of the living planet on which we depend for our lives. In return, we’ll throw away fiat currency in the name of infrastructure so we can maintain our non-negotiable, completely disastrous way of life.

But we won’t spend
a bucka dimea single cent to preclude disaster for our children.

Excuse me, I need to wretch into my composting toilet. I encourage you to do the same. I’ll wait.
Mind you, it’s too late to avoid terrifyingly bad climate change, and avoiding catastrophe seems increasingly unlikely, even to the mainstream media. The numbers keep coming at us, too: greenhouse gases are near the all-time peak, at least since the industrial era began. The United Nations concurs: We’re unlikely to avoid runaway greenhouse.

In short, we’re toast. For a brief yet comprehensive overview of recent assessments and projections, take a look at my latest essay at Transition Voice.

The numbers keep pouring in, faster even than we can keep track: 2010 will join 1998 as hottest since 1850. Or maybe it’ll break this most dire of records and become the warmest year ever. In light of this news, emissions are on the rise, and the talks in Cancun are set to fail.

As I’ve indicated many times, there are no politically viable solutions to climate change. Politicians who propose cutting back emissions sufficiently to make a minor dent in the predicament will be drawn and quartered. Survivors will be hung. Then shot.

The anticipated response from Homo consumicus: We don’t need no stinkin’ solutions. Overshoot? Not on my planet. Oppression? So what? We’re number one.

As with anthropogenic climate change, I’ve also pointed out the absence of politically viable solutions to peak oil and the attendant economic consequences. A minor example of the economic impacts of expensive oil occurs every time we eclipse $80 oil when, shortly thereafter, sovereign defaults fill the news. Iceland. Greece.

Now the Eurozone debt crisis is escalating. Or, to put a finer point on it, the game is up in the Eurozone, with violence is on the rise. And, as it turns out, Japan and the U.S. are circling the same drain as the entire Eurozone, although most Americans haven’t figured it out yet because the fair and balanced pundits at Fox News haven’t told us.
Much to the chagrin and willful ignorance of the mainstream media and also editors at sites that focus on energy, including The Oil Drum and Energy Bulletin, the industrial economy could reach its overdue terminus quite soon. It’s far too late for a fast collapse of the industrial economy: By virtually every economic measure, we’ve experienced a lost decade already.

The last superpower didn’t take this long to fall, and few civilizations have hung on as long as this, the worst of them. In the midst of economic turmoil and pathetic models, even economists admit they haven’t a clue.
Evidence for completion of the ongoing collapse of the industrial economy continues to mount. For starters, the smart money is selling out of U.S. stock markets as U.S. banks are hoarding funds instead of loaning.

The American love affair with stocks is over. States are imploding one by one (and then, if we’re lucky, all at once). The Federal Reserve is bailing out a surprising array of corporations, foreign banks, and, of course, the big banks in the U.S. (the latter to the tune of $9 trillion). Unemployment compensation benefits just ended for another two million people in the U.S. The U.S. government’s attempts to reflate the housing bubble have been overtaken by economic reality.

Meanwhile, we spend money we don’t have on the ongoing, never-ending war in Afghanistan, which — not surprisingly to regular readers here — is not about Afghanistan at all.

If there is any doubt about the moral hypocrisy underlying this empire, consider the governments of the “free world” joining Fox News and Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee in calling for the assassination of Julian Assange because he dares expose the truth about American Empire. In response, Amazon bows to political pressure by pulling the plug on free speech.

And no wonder. It’s one thing to mess with Obomber and Chillary, but there’s no way Assange will get away with taking on a big U.S. bank. I’ll excuse you while you take another break to puke.

Increasingly, the blogosphere is filled with people who recognize the increasingly obvious ongoing economic collapse for what it is. Although there is little agreement about the causes, the consensus is growing about where we’re headed.

A quick online search of a few of the following names gives a few clues about the breadth and depth of the people and organizations warning about and, in some cases, preparing for near-term collapse of the industrial economy (this list is not comprehensive):
Niall Ferguson, Michael Ruppert, Karl Denninger, Rob Viglione, Bill Bonner, Gerald Celente, Jeff Rubin, Matt Savinar, Catherine Austin Fitts, Charles Munger, Gonzalo Lira, Joe Bageant, Dave Cohen, Jan Lundberg, Matt Simmons, Chris Hedges, Dmitry Orlov, Michael Snyder, Nicole Foss, Paul Craig Roberts, Marc Faber, Bill Bonner, James Wesley Rawles, Tony Robbins, Nouriel Roubini, Max Keiser, Tyler Durden, Chris Martenson, James Kwak, Simon Johnson, Chris Clugston, Kenneth Deffeyes, John Taylor, Samsam Bakhtiari, James Howard Kunstler, Bob Chapman, George Ure, Anthony Fry, Igor Panarin, G. Edward Griffin, Joseph Meyer, Harry Dent, John Williams, Richard Russell, Niño Becerra, Martin Weiss, Eric deCarbonnel, Robin Landry, John P. Hussman, Robert Prechter, Richard Mogey, Peter Schiff, Lindsey Williams, Hugh Hendry, Arthur Laffer, Bob Janjuah, Jeff Gundlach, Société Générale.
I am not suggesting even a slim minority of these fine people understand the good news associated with the ongoing economic collapse, and there is no consensus on the role of peak oil in triggering it. As nearly as I can determine, most of these folks view western civilization as a fine idea and, reflecting society, they prefer extinction of our species to the decline of civilization.

Personally, I don’t care what phenomenon gets the credit for bringing down the industrial economy, as long as it happens quickly. Peak oil? Fine. Overwhelming debt load leading to default? Superb. Hyperinflation?

Good idea. Deflation to the point of Dow Zero? Wonderful.

Take your pick, somebody’s touting it as the route to the industrial economy’s imminent demise.
As should be clear even to the casual reader, all roads lead to Rome. And Rome is burning.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Get ready Hawaii, for the true meaning of desert island.
See how long you can sustain your lifestyle connected to mainland.
I wouldn't wanna be in Hawaii, surf it up!

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