Climate change is not a snake

This interesting op-ed piece in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof makes the point that our brain/minds did not evolve to deal with long-term threats such as climate change. Our response to immediate threats such as snakes or terrorist attacks is far more highly developed. The result is usually major over-reaction to terrorism as the invasion of Iraq illustrated. In contrast, concern about longer-term drowning of coastal cities is very hard to stimulate.

This article from the Guardian following the Brussels terrorist attacks also makes the point that over-reaction is exactly what the terror organisations want to precipitate. It is written by a man who was a captive of ISIS for ten months. He even suggests that using the language of war also plays into the propaganda of ISIS. Rather than casting these horrors as acts of war, they should be seen as acts of political violence carried out by, at the most, suicide bombers drawn from a small pool of indoctrinated extremists. Far more people die in western countries from slipping in their baths than from the acts of terrorists, as President Obama pointed out in relation to the USA.

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‘Stunning’ Sea Level Rise

New research is pointing to much a much faster rise in sea levels than formerly anticipated sue to anthropogenic warming and the melting of ice in various parts of the planet. This article in Scientific American provides as summary of the findings which describe a ‘stunning’ acceleration in the increase of sea levels around the world.

US Supreme Court stalls climate legislation

The politicisation of environmental protection in the US which is the world’s second greatest national contributor of green house gases to the atmosphere of Spaceship Earth is reported in this article. President Obama, in his last year of office, seems likely to have his pledge at the Paris Climate Summit stalled by a 4 to 3 vote in the US Supreme Court that split along Republican and Democratic lines. The whole eight years of Obama’s hopes of progressive change in the corporate-dominated US has been thwarted by the Republican majority in Congress and now the Supreme Court’s political leanings towards the interests of big business are adding to Obama’s frustrated presidential term that will condemn him to be seen as  a leader unable to deliver on his ‘audacity of hope’.

A Leap Initiative in Leap Year?

This Guardian article by Naomi Klein is yet another high profile initiative (Leap) to address the predicament of human impact on Spaceship Earth’s natural systems including the atmosphere. It includes the prediction:

Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the UN framework convention on climate change, said recently: “Where capital goes in the next five years will decide what kind of world we have.”

There is a link to the Leap Manifesto and the article is worth reading even if only to see the numerous comments from readers that illustrate the usual worrying range of conflicting opinion on what should be unequivocally obvious about the near future and what awaits us.

Holistic thinking needed

This article by Richard Heinberg gets to the core of the problem facing civilised life in the 21st century, as he puts it – “the cascading complex of crises that will hammer civilisation to bits during the remainder of this century”. He argues that the reductionist mode of thinking that separates aspects of these crises from the entire interconnected cascade and feeds a belief in technofix solutions needs to be replaced by holistic thinking that sees how these crises are interrelated. Three main ‘solutions’ would be:

  1. reverse the growth of human population
  2. shrink and relocalise economies
  3. abandon fossil fuel use and switch to renewable energy sources

Unfortunately such solutions are not politically viable and contradict the vested interests of powerful elites. In addition the scale of change required in the time available to avoid disaster and systems’ collapse seems far too great.

Dmitry Orlov’s (2012) The Five Stages of Collapse suggests that the sequence of a cascade of collapsing systems would be:

  1. Financial
  2. Commercial
  3. Political
  4. Social
  5. Cultural

This is not a cheering prospect but Orlov’s research of how previous collapses have progressed is very persuasive despite the social inertia that binds most of us to business-as-usual and reductionist thinking.

New insights on the Anthropocene

This article from the Guardian is based on a new study that provides one of the strongest cases yet that the planet has entered a new geological epoch. It contains useful graphics and photos to illustrate the global scale of human impact on the planet. The question of whether humans’ combined environmental impact has tipped the planet into an “Anthropocene” – ending the current Holocene which began around 12,000 years ago – will be put to the geological body that formally approves such time divisions later this year. “We could be looking here at a step change from one world to another that justifies being called an epoch,” said Dr Colin Waters, principal geologist at the British Geological Survey and an author on the study published in Science on Thursday.

  • We’ve pushed extinction rates of flora and fauna far above the long-term average. The Earth is now on course for a sixth mass extinction which would see 75% of species extinct in the next few centuries if current trends continue
  • Increased the concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere by about 120 parts per million since the industrial revolution because of fossil fuel-burning, leaving concentrations today at around 400ppm and rising
  • Nuclear weapon tests in the 1950s and 60s left traces of an isotope common in nature, 14C, and a naturally rare isotope, 293Pu, through the Earth’s mid-latitudes
  • Put so much plastic in our waterways and oceans that microplastic particles are now virtually ubiquitous, and plastics will likely leave identifiable fossil records for future generations to discover
  • Doubled the nitrogen and phosphorous in our soils in the past century with our fertiliser use. According to some research, we’ve had the largest impact on the nitrogen cycle in 2.5bn years
  • Left a permanent marker in sediment and glacial ice with airborne particulates such as black carbon from fossil fuel-burning

A further article about the status of the Anthropocene examines the same issue