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Olduvai III: Catacylsm
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COVID-19 Is a Symptom of a Planet That’s Been Pushed Past a Tipping Point

COVID-19 Is a Symptom of a Planet That’s Been Pushed Past a Tipping Point

The pandemic could signal that we’ve passed a series of civilizational tipping points that will usher in a new era of ecological emergencies.

The COVID-19 pandemic signals that civilization has breached a major ‘tipping point’ that could pave the way for a dangerous new era of interacting ecological emergencies.

Scientific evidence accumulated over the last five years suggests that the pandemic didn’t come out of the blue, but is a direct consequence of industrial civilization’s breaching of key ‘planetary boundaries’—these are important natural ecosystems needed to maintain what scientists describe as the ‘safe operating space’ for human survival on the planet.

The more we destabilize those boundaries, the more this safe space for human habitation shrinks—and COVID-19 suggests that the world economy is now entering a volatile new phase of chronic instability due to not just one crisis, but the interaction of many crises including climate change, resource bottlenecks, food system failures and civil unrest. It is the escalating synergy between these crises, each of which is experiencing its own tipping points, which points to the risk we are crossing a planetary threshold in the global system.

This verdict doesn’t come from new data, but from applying a systems lens to understand the massive amount of data we already have. I assessed the evidence in a major report for the Schumacher Institute for Sustainable Systems, a British think-tank which has led on the European Commission’s CONVERGE project, among other things.

Pandemic: a symptom of civilization itself

Prior to 2020, warnings from public health experts of an incoming global pandemic had accumulated over the last few decades. All of them have based their diagnosis on examining the risks posed by the relentless expansion of industrial civilization.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Spiked. BC Profs Protest after Publisher Drops Book on Canadian Mining

Spiked. BC Profs Protest after Publisher Drops Book on Canadian Mining

UNBC researchers’ book alleging wrongdoing in Guatemala was accepted, reviewed, then cancelled.

Two British Columbia university professors are accusing a major academic publisher of blocking scrutiny of Canadian mining companies by cancelling publication of their book.

“We have a responsibility to publicize what happened,” wrote University of Northern British Columbia geography professor and department chair Catherine Nolin and UNBC adjunct professor Grahame Russell in an open letter to Springer Nature. Russell lives in Toronto and runs UNBC field courses in Guatemala with Nolin.

Nolin and Russell co-edited Canadian Mining in the Aftermath of Genocides in Guatemala: The Violence, Corruption, and Impunity of Contemporary Predatory Mineral Exploitation. Russell is also a founder and director of the advocacy group Rights Action.

The book had passed peer review and was ready last February for publication, but after several months delay Springer Nature notified them that after a legal review it had decided to cancel their contract and return the rights to the manuscript to them. It cited libel concerns.

“They didn’t engage in any sort of tweaks,” Russell said in a Zoom call. “We didn’t think it would be five months of silence and then shut the door.”

Headquartered in Europe, Springer Nature publishes thousands of titles a year according to its website, as well as journals including Nature.

“A major theme addressed in the articles, testimonies and analysis that comprise our book is the endemic corruption and impunity with which the mining companies addressed in the book have, variously, been able to operate in Guatemala, with their Guatemalan economic and political partners,” Nolin and Russell wrote in their letter.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Big Banks’ Green Bafflegab

The Big Banks’ Green Bafflegab

Look behind their pro-climate ads and do what they do. Follow the money.

There must be a basement somewhere on Bay Street full of English majors. Every day they churn out great reams of verbiage about “environmental, social and governance strategy” and fill annual reports with a dozen different ways to say that the big five Canadian banks care about the environment.

Except the numbers tell a different story, and if you want to know the truth, then the old adage “follow the money” will steer you in the right direction, passing quickly through all the green bafflegab and arriving at the conclusion that the banks are sacrificing our climate to make a profit.

The latest news is a recent pledge by TD to achieve a “target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions associated with our operations and financing activities by 2050,” trumpeting that it’s the first Canadian bank to do so. Sounds good, yes?

But dig deeper and there’s no mention that since the Paris Agreement TD has financed more than C$135 billion in fossil fuel projects, the eighth largest amount out of all the banks on the planet. What will TD’s net-zero pledge do to alter this climate-killing practice? It doesn’t say. But judging from the collective shrug from the oil patch, probably not much.

What TD does say is that it will “work closely with clients” rather than decide that certain clients probably shouldn’t be clients. Notably, Suncor, Cenovus and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. all also have 2050 net-zero pledges, so presumably TD will continue to finance them, whose products rapidly fill our atmosphere with “green” carbon while our life-support systems fail.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Horgan Seems Fine with Muzzling the True Site C Watchdog

Horgan Seems Fine with Muzzling the True Site C Watchdog

The independent BC Utilities Commission demanded answers on risks and was brushed off.

BC Hydro has, in a Trumpian gesture, brushed off the last independent oversight of the out-of-control Site C project, with the apparent support of the newly elected NDP government.

The BC Utilities Commission is supposed to make sure BC Hydro is acting responsibly in the interests of its customers. It’s the only check on the monopoly $6-billion Crown corporation.

But BC Hydro just gave the finger to the regulator, and to British Columbians. And Premier John Horgan seems to be fine with that.

The utilities commission is mandated to ensure BC Hydro makes good decisions in the public interest. It scrutinizes the corporation’s budgets, plans and projections. It approves — or rejects — rate increases, and reports on whether projects like Site C are needed and based on a sound business case.

In doing that, it relies on BC Hydro to accept the oversight and provide needed information.

And BC Hydro has simply dismissed its obligation to accept independent oversight.

On July 31, BC Hydro filed updates on Site C with the utilities commission.

They were alarming. BC Hydro revealed there was “uncertainty with the dam’s schedule and in-service date” and “significant financial pressures.” So significant the corporation said it was coming up with a new budget and schedule for the megaproject.

And BC Hydro said that in late December a “project risk” had “materialized.”

The dam’s main structures — spillways and the giant power generating hall — are being built on unstable ground. The corporation is trying to figure out a solution and it has no idea how much this will cost.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…



An operation of fossil fuel giant ExxonMobil near Chicago, USA [Richard Hurd, Flickr CC BY 2.0]

The harm caused by the climate crisis has become undeniable – and terrifying. The floods, storms and raging fires, and the death and displacement they bring, have contributed to a global upwelling of concern and demands on governments to take action. But this has led to new behaviour by the fossil fuels lobby that will undermine efforts to prevent catastrophic climate breakdown if not rigorously challenged.When people experience the frightening reality of a warming world, they are resistant to Big Oil’s previous tactics of denying that climate change is happening or pretending its impacts will be negligible. But rather than shift their huge investment power to renewable energy and take the financial hit from admitting that the vast majority of fossil fuel reserves are unburnable, companies such as Shell and BP have adopted a different approach: greenwashing. In efforts to continue with business-as-usual operations and keep on drilling and mining, fossil fuel companies are ramping up their use of public relations to paint a green veneer over their destructive practices. They try to portray themselves as caring, responsible corporate citizens, while continuing to mine, drill, burn and spill.

Ramped-up rhetoric

If someone is making money from oil, coal or gas but tries to persuade us that they are on our side on the climate crisis, and they’ve got a way to tackle it without stopping burning fossil fuels – that is greenwash. From fossil fuels industry get-togethers to oil company reports, the industry is ramping up its rhetoric about being part of the solution. ‘International Petroleum Week’ earlier this year portrayed itself as ‘Delivering a low-carbon future’, while the ‘Oil and Money’ conference in 2019 claimed to offer ‘Strategies for the energy transition’.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Food for thought

Food for thought

Leander Jones looks at the role of community supported agriculture as a 21st-century antidote to the destructive and increasingly fragile corporate agricultural model

Members of the Basta community supported agriculture collective working the farm. Image courtesy of Hof Basta.

In the past few decades fundamental flaws in the global food system have been increasingly thrust into the public eye. The rise of industrial agriculture – combining increased use of fertilisers and pesticides with aesthetics-focused crop modification and long-distance transportation – has led to devastation of the environment and turbocharged an extractive model that thrives on exploitation of the world’s producers. The relentless quest to maximise production – and profits – per acre is destroying the very land on which this production depends. It is akin to setting your house on fire to save on energy bills.

The fragility of food systems is being exposed by the Covid-19 crisis as global production and transportation have been rocked. The UN Food and Agriculture programme has warned of ‘biblical’ famine threatening hundreds of millions of people.

Making space

Alternative models of non-industrial food production have historical roots stretching back decades and are numerous in their iterations. Community-supported agriculture (CSA) is one example. As a practice it seeks to connect consumers directly with producers, with the aim of fostering community, creating fair exchange and sharing risks. The idea’s growth and popularity correlates with the rise of environmentalism.

Basta (‘Enough’ in Italian) is a CSA collective that has been running since 2013 near Berlin. The founders, Anna and Olli, bought a plot of land with the help of the Kulturland Genossenschaft (Cultivated Land Cooperative), in which small producers pool their resources to buy land and take it off the market. Individual farmers pay a yearly tariff back to Kulturland, while the land is owned in common.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Expert IPCC Reviewer Speaks Out

Expert IPCC Reviewer Speaks Out

Photograph Source: Alexander Savin – CC BY 2.0

Expert IPCC Reviewer Speaks Out

Roger Hallam, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion/XR recently interviewed Peter Carter, M.D., who has the distinguished title – Expert IPCC Reviewer for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The interview was conducted to get to the bottom of what science says about the state of affairs, specifically the health of the planet.

The following is a video link to that brilliant interview, inclusive of a treasure trove of contemporary science events (time: 41:21 Nov. 11, 2020):

Additionally, a synopsis of the interview follows herein, but it does not do justice to the emphasis as expressed by the participants:

Dr. Carter is currently reviewing the 6th Assessment (AR6) of the IPCC. Additionally, he reviewed the IPCC Special 1.5°C Report of 2018 that exposed a new reality about the global climate emergency. As a result, the depth and breadth of a true emergency is gaining recognition throughout the world. The fact that 1.5°C above baseline is now the prescribed upper limit to global warming accomplished more than just turning heads.

Dr. Carter: “We are in a climate emergency, in an unprecedented Earth emergency… it’s an emergency of our climate, an emergency of our oceans… this is not one of many challenges, this is the challenge for all of humanity.”

The upcoming 26th COP (Conference of the Parties) to be held November 2021 in Glasgow is on the docket for scientists and bureaucrats, as well as big moneyed interests, to knock heads in a formal setting to discuss the state of the planet. If all goes according to plan, like past COPs, powerful economic interests will sabotage what would otherwise be a rather dim forecast of a planet in various stages of collapse, some terminal.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Investigation: How Pesticide Companies Are Marketing Themselves as a Solution to Climate Change

Investigation: How Pesticide Companies Are Marketing Themselves as a Solution to Climate Change

Green pesticides

This article was published as part of the launch of DeSmog’s Agribusiness Database, where you can find a record of companies and organisations’ current messaging on climate change, lobbying around climate action, and histories of climate science denial.

Like a pandemic, climate change is an inevitable threat that we must address before it is too late,” reads a June 2020 statement. “As the economy and agriculture begin to build back with the gradual easing of the COVID-19 restrictions, we need to support a recovery for farmers that puts the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss at its core.”

The speaker? Not Greta Thunberg, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Al Gore. Not, in fact, any environmentalist you might care to imagine. Instead, it was Erik Fyrwald, Chief Executive Officer of Syngenta Group — one of the world’s five largest pesticides manufacturers, a major consumer of fossil fuels, and now a company marketing its products as a solution to climate change.

Syngenta’s messaging — alongside similar campaigns from the other “big five” global pesticides producers BayerBASFCorteva and FMC — reflects a sudden transformation within the agricultural world.

After decades of denial and delay by big agribusiness, the pesticides industry now appears to have become a climate champion.

Waking up on climate change’

The pesticides market is dominated by a small handful of companies — Bayer (which acquired Monsanto in 2018), Corteva (formerly Dow and DuPont), SyngentaBASF and FMC — whose hazardous products a United Nations report said have “catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health, and society as a whole” amid a global insect die-off and legal battles over carcinogenic effects of products once marketed as harmless.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Greenland’s largest glaciers nearing rates of melt expected in ‘worst-case scenario’

Greenland’s largest glaciers nearing rates of melt expected in ‘worst-case scenario’

Greenland’s three biggest glaciers added the equivalent of around 8mm to global sea levels from 1880 to 2012, study says

Photo of Jakobshavn Isbræ, one of Greenland’s largest glaciers
Photo of Jakobshavn Isbræ, one of Greenland’s largest glaciers
Greenland’s largest glaciers are currently melting at levels close to what scientists had previously expected under a future “worst-case scenario”, a study has found.

Using a combination of aerial photographs and field data, the study found that current rates of mass loss from Greenland’s three largest glaciers are higher than once thought.

The melting of these three glaciers added the equivalent of around 8mm to global sea levels from 1880 to 2012, according to the research.

Previous research had estimated that the same three glaciers would contribute 9-15mm to global sea levels by 2100 under a “worst-case scenario”.

The Greenland ice sheet is a mass of frozen freshwater sitting on the island of Greenland that is around 1.7m square kilometres in size. This is about three times the size of Texas.

As a result of climbing air and ocean temperatures, the ice sheet is losing mass each year. The loss of mass from Greenland’s glaciers is, in turn, causing sea levels to rise.

The research, published in Nature Communications, focuses on the “big three” glaciers in Greenland: Jakobshavn Isbræ, Kangerlussuaq Glacier and Helheim Glacier. These glaciers together hold enough ice to raise sea levels by around 1.3 metres, if they melted completely.

It found that the amount of sea level rise from the melting of these three glaciers is already nearing rates previously expected under a future “worst-case” scenario.

This suggests that, if the world were to see extremely high emissions in the coming decades, ice loss from Greenland’s glaciers would be considerably higher than previously projected, explains study author Prof Jonathan Bamber, a glaciologist at the University of Bristol.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Climate Change dominates news coverage at expense of other equally important existential issues

Climate Change dominates news coverage at expense of other equally important existential issues

Preface. I’ve noticed that in the half dozen science magazines and several newspapers I get practically the only environmental stories are about climate change. Yet there are 8 other ecological boundaries (Rockström 2009) we must not cross (shown in bold with an asterisk below) and dozens of other existential threats as well.

Global peak oil production may have already happened in October of 2018 (Will covid-19 delay peak oil? Table 1). It is likely the decline rate will be 6%, increasing exponentially by +0.015% a year (see post “Giant oil field decline rates and peak oil”). So, after 16 years remaining oil production will be just 10% of what it was at the peak.

If peak oil happened in 2018, then CO2 ppm levels may be under 400 by 2100 as existing and much lower emissions of CO2 are absorbed by oceans and land. The IPCC never even modeled peak oil in their dozens of scenarios because they assumed we’d be exponentially increasing our use of fossils until 2400. They never asked geologists what the oil, coal, and natural gas reserves were, assumed we’d use methane hydrates, and many other wrong assumptions.

Meanwhile, all the ignored ecological disasters will become far more obvious. They’re papered over with fossils today. Out of fresh water? Just drill another 1,000 feet down. Eutrophied water? Build a $500 million dollar water treatment plant. Fisheries collapsed? Go to the ends of the earth to capture the remaining schools of fish.

The real threat is declining fossil production, yet climate change gets nearly all the coverage. And I’ve left out quite a few other threats, such as “nuclear war” with 17,900 results since 2016 in scholar.google.com.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Hacking the Law to Open Up Zones of Commoning

Norway’s Supreme Court to Decide on Climate Lawsuit Challenging Offshore Arctic Oil Drilling

Norway’s Supreme Court to Decide on Climate Lawsuit Challenging Offshore Arctic Oil Drilling

Greenpeace protest against Norway arctic oil drilling
The Supreme Court of Norway is set to rule in a high-profile climate change lawsuit challenging the Norwegian government’s licensing of new offshore oil drilling in the fragile and rapidly warming Arctic region. The forthcoming decision from Norway’s highest court could, for the first time anywhere in the world, invalidate offshore petroleum production on climate change grounds.

Hearings before the country’s Supreme Court in the case, dubbed The People v. Arctic Oil, began on November 4 and concluded on November 12; a decision is expected within the next few months.

The fate of the climate, and millions of people across the world affected by extreme weather events, hangs in the balance of every barrel of oil we either extract, or leave in the ground. The Norwegian state has an obligation to both the Paris Agreement and the Norwegian Constitution to minimise the health and safety risks from the climate crisis on future generations,” Frode Pleym, head of Greenpeace Norway, one of the organizations challenging the oil licenses, said in a statement. “The Supreme Court now has the unique opportunity to decide over the future of new oil drilling in the middle of a climate crisis.”

Greenpeace Norway and an environmental youth-led organization called Nature and Youth (also referred to as Young Friends of the Earth Norway) sued the Norwegian government in 2016 challenging the opening of new areas of the Barents Sea to oil drilling; the hearings over the past week are the culmination of this lawsuit which has weaved its way through the courts over the past four years.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 “The Necessary Alternative to Growth is Degrowth”

A Review of Degrowth by Giorgos Kallis (2018)

In Europe, “degrowth” is actually a movement, while in the US it is barely mentionable in polite society. To question “growth” would be the death knell for any serious politician. So what’s going on here? We live in the same world and face the same reality of “limits-to-growth” – a very popular concept in the US 50 years ago.

Well, since Earth Day, 1970, there has been a lot of “water under the bridge”, to be sure, but more to the point “oil in the pipeline”, especially in petro-states like the US. We may not be as dependent on oil as the other two big petro-states – the Saudis and the Russians – but it still skews our politics and our culture far more than most people realize. But Europe is not so well endowed with fossil fuels. That’s exactly the point of reading the European scholar Giorgos Kallis on degrowth. He’s not sidelined for painting a more sober view of the 21st century:

“Either we find a way to stop those who are plundering the earth and share the limited planet that we have, or we will enter a New Dark Age of humanity… There will never be enough until we share what there is… Degrowth marks a ruthless critique of the dogma of economic growth”.

Note the utopian element, which Kallis readily acknowledges: It’s not just about long-term economic contraction – that we must learn to live within our planetary means. That will happen one way or another anyway. He calls us to do all we can to avoid both catastrophe and plutocracy – the brutal dog-eat-dog and win-lose scenarios. Think of his solution as “resilience” plus “sharing”. And forget about the fiction of “green growth”.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Dear David Attenborough, beautiful Netflix documentary. But your ‘solutions’ destroy nature even more

I recently saw your new film, A Life on Our Planet – a beautiful, harrowing documentary about the global decline of our natural ecosystems. It’s a bitter pill with a sweet dessert: a possible way out of this mess. I couldn’t help but choke on that dessert – because you suddenly mention the Netherlands as a leading example for the rest of the world.

As a Dutch person, this would be a great honour, if it weren’t for the fact that you are gravely mistaken.

Your reasoning is as follows. We humans are cultivating more and more land for agriculture to support our growing global population, thereby destroying natural ecosystems. The most important example is a seemingly endless succession of palm oil plantations in Borneo, built at the expense of the richest nature on Earth, including orangutans, our siblings in the canopy.

So, you say, we need to focus all our energies on cultivating more food on less land. “The Dutch have become experts at getting the most out of every hectare,” we hear you say with your familiar eloquent tone. “Despite its size, the Netherlands is now the world’s second largest exporter of food.”

According to you, the Netherlands has increased its production tenfold, while using fewer pesticides and artificial fertilisers, with lower CO2 emissions. We see tomatoes growing in futuristic greenhouses, and even vertical farming: heads of lettuce growing one above the other, 10 storeys high, illuminated by purple LED lighting.

But the fact that we are champion exporters is not because we pile heads of lettuce on top of each other or because we grow sustainable sci-fi tomatoes.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Nuclear waste disposal drilled deep into earth’s crust

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is frack-hole-drilling.jpg

Preface. One the greatest tragedies of the decline of oil will be all the nuclear waste left to harm future generations for up to a million years. We owe it to them to clean up our mess while we still have the fossil energy to do it, they won’t be able to discard the waste with horses and biomass-based energy like the civilizations before fossils that we’re returning to.  If we don’t do anything, nuclear waste will sit at  reactors, military and nuclear warhead sites.

The first of three articles below criticizes the deep borehole method of disposal that follow.  I disagree.  There are groups opposed to moving nuclear waste to a faraway site in case the train goes off the rails or there is a truck accident making it hard to use any repository anywhere.  Drilling a borehole onsite gets around that.  It is also much easier, faster, and far cheaper than new tunnel sites like Yucca mountain, which has cost $15 billion so far.  Of course there are issues with boreholes, but no showstoppers.  It is simply politically impossible to build large repositories. Nevada is one of the least populated states and it couldn’t be done there.  The perfect is the enemy of the good, so I vote boreholes.  Equally good, reopen Yucca Mountain, which the book “Too Hot to Touch: The Problem of High-Level Nuclear Waste” shows is a perfectly fine place– thousands of combinations of scenarios of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, high rainfall, and other hazards have been modeled and nothing released the wastes below.

Related: posts on nuclear waste, especially “A Nuclear spent fuel fire at Peach Bottom in Pennsylvania could force 18 million people to evacuate”


Krall, L. 2020. Nuclear waste disposal: Why the case for deep boreholes is … full of holes. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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