Friday, April 11, 2014

Beyond Environmentalism

We're all looking for some way to escape.  Some use religion, some use alcohol, some use television.  I don't judge, we all pick our poison, most of us have come up with a combination of various diversions to get through the monotony of the daily grind.  After 10 years of marriage, Mrs. Paulsen and I have discovered that our favorite method of escape is travel; our favorite means is the road trip.  We spent our 10th anniversary motoring through the central part of California, making stops on the coast in San Francisco, the bucolic rolling hillsides (and wineries) of Napa, even steeper hillsides in Nevada City and Grass Valley, underground detritus in Sacramento and relative flatness in Lodi.  We also stepped outside the state for the many methods of escape that Reno provides.  One of the best damn road trips ever.

One of the side benefits of escaping the confines of Los Angeles County was the opportunity to horde large amounts of plastic bags by simply making purchases at grocery stores.  We can't do that where we live anymore.  As of January 1 this year in LA County, all supermarkets are forbidden by law from providing free plastic bags.  Smaller markets and liquor stores will be forbidden starting July 1.  The reason we horde large amounts of plastic bags is that we have our own method for recycling them: every room in our house where we compile garbage, we have small containers lined with plastic bags to collect each week.  We've done this for over a decade now and it's saved us a lot of money.  So for selfish reasons, we're more than a bit chagrined about this development.

But besides that, I'm looking closer at this change as it plays it in real life and it seems to be the embodiment of everything that is wrong with the whole environmental movement.  I grew up here in the 70s, so I've seen the visual and physical proof (smog; what an awful memory) where changes on behalf of environmental concerns can be positive.  But whereas that change entailed top-down changes where the needs of the masses outweighed the cost of private commerce, now we see the reverse at play.  Back in the 70s, there were no free plastic bags in supermarkets, it was free paper bags that they packed groceries in.  Then in the 80s, there was a huge campaign against paper bags on behalf of environmental concerns; too much of our forests being cut down, unnecessary waste, etc.  So that was how free plastic bags in grocery stores in California came to be in the first place.  But now, according to the law, if you don't bring your own bags to the grocery store, you can buy, at 10 cent a pop, a paper bag.  That's just the letter of the law.  The reality is most stores I've been to in the county are selling plastic bags at the same price.  It's debatable, three months later, just how much cleaner our environment actually is.  While there might be less floating plastic bags that I have to worry about dodging so they don't stick to the bottom of my car, I've had to do quite a bit more dodging on foot avoiding excessive piles of dog shit that wasn't as much of a problem when people could pick them up with free plastic bags.

But those details really avoid the larger point at play: we're rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.  This law barely makes a dent where the real issue plastic has on our environment is concerned: the Carbon Crisis.  That's my term for the twin threats of Peak Oil and Global Climate Change.  The politicians and corporate interests behind this law seem more concerned with the bottom line economically than whether this law actually reduces carbon consumption to any significant degree.  It doesn't address how our civilization has been put on a collision course with cataclysm at all.  If anything, it only highlights how accurate George Carlin was when he criticized this type of mentality over twenty years ago:

"I’m tired of these self-righteous environmentalists, these white, bourgeois liberals who think the only thing wrong with this country is that there aren’t enough bicycle paths.  People trying to make the world safe for their Volvos.  Besides, environmentalists don’t give a shit about the planet. They don't care about the planet.  Not in the abstract they don’t.  Not in the abstract they don’t.  You know what they’re interested in?  A clean place to live.  Their own habitat.  They’re worried that some day in the future they might be personally inconvenienced.  Narrow, unenlightened self-interest doesn’t impress me.  

Besides, there is nothing wrong with the planet.  Nothing wrong with the planet.  The planet is fine!  The people are fucked!  Difference.  Difference.  The planet is fine.  Compared to the people, the planet is doing great!  It's been here 4 1/2 billion years.  Do you ever think about the arithmetic?  Planet has been here 4 1/2 billion years.  We've been here, what, 100,000 maybe 200,000?  And we've only been engaged in heavy industry for a little over 200 years.  200 years versus 4 1/2 billion.  And we have the conceit to think that somehow we're a threat?  That somehow we're gonna put in jeopardy this beautiful little blue-green ball that's just a-floatin' around the sun?

The planet has been through a lot worse than us.  Been through all kinds of things worse than us.  Been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sun spots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles, hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors, worldwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages … And we think some plastic bags and some aluminum cans are going to make a difference?  The planet isn’t going anywhere.  WE are!  We’re going away.  Pack your shit, folks.  We’re going away."

This is why we need to move beyond environmentalism, why it has failed as a movement.  Not that I have a problem with the self-interest that Carlin lambasts, just that for the most part, it has been narrow.  Climate Change is an existential threat!  I don't believe that environmentalists on the whole get this point.  We know that the right-wing Ditto-heads and their corporate masters don't or won't get this point and take pride in their denial.  But environmentalists, for all their good intentions that they're paving the road to hell with, don't get it either. Why?  Because existential threats necessitate revolutionary action to counter the threat.  And there is nothing revolutionary about environmentalism at this juncture at all!

They've become part of the system, deluding themselves into thinking, as I wrote on Rigorous Intuition, "that we can solve the Carbon Crisis Conundrum and still keep our high-tech Happy Motoring Society intact."  As I quoted in my last post from Michael Ruppert, "The planet is being destroyed all around us.  Using money to try to address that problem; it's shooting yourself in the foot."  But that's exactly the solution most environmentalists have been advocating since the time George Carlin was rolling his eyes at them.  We can't afford to abide by that solution anymore.

Why is the situation so dire?  I recently re-watched An Inconvenient Truth for the first time in years.  It's been eight years since that movie was released in theaters.  What I was looking for specifically, after finding out in my last post that the North Pole is warmer now than it has been in 140,000 years, was what Al Gore had to say about the melting of the polar ice caps.  About 44 minutes into the film, he said that thanks to global warming, we can look forward to ice-free summers in the Arctic sometime in the next 50 to 75 years.  Taking into account that his slide-show presentation was probably filmed sometime in late 2005, that would put his prediction somewhere within the years 2055 to 2080.

We already know in 2014 that this prediction was way, way off.  Most likely this is because the melting of polar ice was calculated and extrapolated over a linear time rate.  What we have witnessed since then is the Arctic ice cap melting at an exponential rate, which David Wasdell does an excellent job of explaining in this two-part video.  There have been a number of new predictions from reputable organizations that the North Pole will first experience an ice-free summer anywhere from as early as 2015 to as late as 2018.  I believe it will occur in the summer of 2016.  Why then?  Because that's when it is predicted to occur by the US Navy.  That's right, a study conducted not by some left-wing, socialist, granola-eating hippie collective, but by the Fucking Navy of the United Fucking States of America.  Are you paying attention now?!

Here's what I want you to take away from reading this blog post: if during some summer within the next five years you turn on the news and see images of an ice-free Arctic, understand this is visual proof that the human race is fucked.  It's really that simple.  I'm quite sure that the news will try to soft-sell the real ramifications; depending on which channel you're watching, you may hear talking heads cluck about how it was only ice-free for a few days before it froze over again, or how this will be great for the global economy making summer shipping lanes more efficient.  I'm positive there will be a plethora of different distractions to obscure what this unprecedented event really means.  What does it really mean?  It means we can say with 100% certainty that we have fired the 'clathrate gun.'

The clathrate gun hypothesis is something I first found out about while listening to Guy McPherson present his research a couple months ago in Olympia, Washington.  He has stated his belief with "99% certainty" that as a result of industrial civilization, the clathrate gun was fired in 2007, a belief rooted in the scientific research of Malcolm Light on the Gulf Stream transport rate.  Basically the concept behind the clathrate gun is that a rise in Arctic sea temperature will trigger the sudden release of methane stored in clathrate compounds buried in seabeds and permafrost initiating runaway climate change.  Once the Arctic ice is gone, the solar energy that formerly went into heating up the ice will now be heating up the water.  The methane clathrates are located in shallow sea beds.  It logically follows that once the Arctic ice cap melts, runaway climate change via massive methane release is inevitable.

How bad could runaway climate change be?  Here's some perspective: we have already burned 226 gigatons of carbon dioxide since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.  Just this greenhouse gas alone has driven atmospheric CO2 to 402ppm, the highest recorded concentration in 800,000 years!  Arctic Ocean methane is equivalent to anywhere between 1,000 to 10,000 gigatons.  Since only a minor increase in temperature is sufficient to trigger a methane release, a 50 gigaton "burp" of methane is highly possible at any time between 2015 and 2025.  Because methane is a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, that would have the strength of roughly 1,250 gigatons of carbon dioxide.  What would that translate to for an increase of global average temperature?  4 degrees C above baseline by 2030.  No humans have ever lived on Earth at 3.5 C above baseline (global average temperature at the start of the Industrial Revolution).  This doesn't mean we roast to death.  But even if the "burp" turns out to be a wet fart, at 2-3 C above baseline, we lose all ocean photoplankton and therefore most ocean life.  Perhaps this is what the IPCC is alluding to in their latest report when they said, “models based on current agricultural systems suggest large negative impacts on agricultural productivity and substantial risks to global food production and security.”  Translation: we may run out of food.

So what's my point?  Is this just a morbid personal exercise in facing mortality, perhaps exacerbated by the upcoming anniversary of my father's passing?  I can't discount that influence, but in a positive way - that I have more clarity and courage in areas I previously refused to explore.  Nobody can say for certain whether the prospect of runaway climate change means we will be one of the species to take an exit bow in this Sixth Great Extinction that is currently taking place without a runaway event.  But I think it's safe to say this is a situation beyond plastic bags, carbon footprints, or any of the other outer trappings of building a shiny new Green Economy right on top of the rotting vestiges of the old one.  Until environmentalism unites behind a plan to change the way money works so that our economic infrastructure represents energy instead of debt, change our modes of production so that carbon consumption is effectively eradicated, and find a way to decommision the 447 existing nuclear power plants within a decade so they don't melt down if civilization breaks down, the movement isn't part of the solution, it's part of the problem.  The problem is the System.  Saving humanity requires proactively de-industrializing civilization before a suicidal devolution does the job for us.  That means destroying the System.  Revolution.  You've heard the song before. want to see my plan?  That's a post for another day.

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