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Climate catastrophe: The median is NOT the message

Climate catastrophe: The median is NOT the message

Anyone who has followed the climate change issue in the last 30 years knows that official forecasts provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are quickly upended by developments and have often been obsolete before they were issued.

The latest report from the IPCC is the first, however, to abandon the measured tone of its previous ones and foretell what it considers a climate catastrophe for human civilization unless the world makes an abrupt U-turn and begins dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions almost immediately.

And yet, even this forecast is probably too conservative in its pronouncements. That’s according to Michael Mann, a climate researcher whose famous “hockey stick” graph has been central to understanding the rise in global temperatures and has been replicated again and again using other measures of historical worldwide temperatures.

What is little understood by the public is that humans have been underestimating the pace and impact of climate change since Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius first suggested in 1896 that the globe was warming due to emissions of carbon dioxide.

Which brings me to a broader point: The public tends to hear most often about the median values or middle-of-the road scenarios in any forecast, sometimes called the reference case. (Very little emphasis is put on the range of possibilities. For example, the IPCC in 2000 forecast that global average temperature could be 1.4 to 5.8 degrees Centigrade higher than the 1990 level by 2100.)

Today, we find ourselves fretting that going beyond a 1.5-degree increase from pre-industrial times will spell catastrophe involving global agriculture, severe weather, sea-level rise, and disease epidemics. Previously, 2 degrees was thought to be the threshold for severe irretrievable consequences resulting from climate change.

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

Western Civilization 101

Western Civilization 101

Notwithstanding the fears of Samuel Huntington and the more overtly violent demonstrations of self-described Western chauvinists such as the Proud Boys, the term “Western Civilization” is of only relatively recent creation. Advanced following the First World War, the concept, along with other inventions such as “Great Books” series, was designed to uphold the merit of a project that had just culminated in an unprecedented industrial bloodbath. That the idea was promulgated merely decades before an even larger industrial bloodbath suggests that its promoters ought to have taken a humbler approach in their attempt to salvage, in fact construct, Western European history. After all, insofar as it even constitutes a coherent and quantifiable entity, Western Civilization advanced not because of any intrinsic superiority but because of fortuitous geographic circumstances and no small portion of simple freak luck.

It has been noted that if an informed observer had been standing atop the world in 1500 CE and was asked to predict which power – among Western Europe, the Ottoman Empire, China, Japan, India, or Russia — would become dominant over the following centuries, it would have been unlikely that he or she would have chosen what had until recently been the Western European backwater. It would have been far more sensible to instead opt for, say, Ming China or the Ottoman Empire, which was in possession of Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Greece, and Hungary and continually menaced, and periodically invaded, lands further west.

Yet, as we know, Western Europe did become dominant over the next four centuries — though not necessarily evenly or without setbacks; the so-called Sick Man of Europe defeated Britain in battle as late as 1916. Nevertheless, by WWI, Europe directly or indirectly controlled a full eighty percent of the world’s landmass, an unprecedented degree of global domination. So how do we explain this extraordinary growth?

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

After the End of the World: Restarting Civilization

As I revised my existing material and notes into the articles that this series became, my ideas advanced from a library that one person could accumulate into a bigger project. This final article will primarily discuss this bigger project: restarting civilization.

With this final article of this series I want to weave together the threads of the previous articles into a plan that, if fully executed, could prepare humankind to restore our technological civilization should a civilization-destroying disaster occur.

I’m going to cover the following points.

  1. Define the problem – disaster
  2. What has been accomplished to date
  3. Propose a solution
  4. Find the information and tools necessary to restore a destroyed civilization
  5. Save the information and tools necessary to restore a destroyed civilization
  6. Survive the disastrous event
  7. Use the saved technology to rebuild civilization

Define the Problem

Disasters can happen anytime, anywhere and many occur without warning. Unless you prepare ahead of time you run the risk of property loss, injury or death of yourself or a loved one. The immediate danger inherit in some disasters, such as weather, can be over in a matter of minutes or a few days. Other disasters can result in The End of The World As We Know It (TEOTWAWKI) (also known as Doomsday). For those disasters that have the potential to cause the collapse of civilization a plan must be in place to restore civilization. Preserving the scientific, medical and technological knowledge is the mission of this series of articles.

Survive the TEOTWAWKI Event

Surviving a major disaster breaks down into basically four time periods depending on the scope of the disaster. Items 1 and 2 below apply to all disasters. Items 3 and 4 apply to a TEOTWAWKI (The End of The World As We Know It) disaster.

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

Propaganda, Human Consciousness, And The Future Of Civilization

Propaganda, Human Consciousness, And The Future Of Civilization

A duck floats past two fish, looks down and says “Morning boys! How’s the water?” The fish swim on for a bit, then one of them turns to the other and says, “What the fuck is water?”

Corporatist propaganda is to western civilization what water is to fish. Our culture is saturated in it; it informs so many levels of our worldview and most of us never even examine any of them. It informs all aspects of culture, from our beliefs about what’s going on in the world to our understanding of history to what issues we think we’re supposed to care about on a given day to what opinions we think we’re allowed to choose from. People think they know what’s going on in their society, why their country fought this or that war, how their nation’s government and economy operate, when really they don’t know any of those things. All their most basic assumptions about their world, their culture, and even who they are as individuals is fully pervaded by mass media propaganda narratives.

In early tribal cultures, humans depended on campfire stories passed on from one generation to the next to tell them what the world is and how to interpret their experiences in it. Now that role has fallen exclusively to a few highly consolidated corporate media conglomerates whose billionaire owners have a vested interest in maintaining the warmongering plutocratic power establishment that is loosely centralized in the United States, because in that power establishment they get to live as kings.

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

250+ Books That Will Help Rebuild Civilization

250+ Books That Will Help Rebuild Civilization

How to Rebuild Civilization

In any world-wide disaster that causes civilization to collapse, it is possible that 90% of the world’s population will die. It will be hard to rebuild civilization because most of those will be older people, many of whom will have been educated in and have many years of experience in useful subjects such as

  • engineering
  • medicine
  • farming
  • construction
  • mechanics
  • oil industry
  • electrical generation and transmission
  • manufacturing
  • rail and shipping transportation
  • operating machine tools

And that’s just to name a few.

With all that knowledge and experience lost, it will be impossible to restart civilization where we were before the disaster struck. Most facilities powering life as we know it, such as oil refineries, power plants, hospitals, factories, etc. may be damaged beyond use or even totally destroyed.

Hopefully, the assemblage of knowledge presented in these articles will help civilization fall only as far as the late 1800s or early 1900s. The alternative is back to the dark ages, or worse. The point is that many or most of our tools and machines will likely have to be recreated from scratch.

I’ve never seen any articles that look beyond just surviving a TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It) event. I have read only one book on the subject. This article provides a collection of information that could otherwise be lost forever.

Where are you and what is your life like if you survive that magic first year?

What if you are one of the 10% of humankind left? How far will your lifestyle have fallen in historical terms?

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

Culture shift: redirecting humanity’s path to a flourishing future

Culture shift: redirecting humanity’s path to a flourishing future

It’s time to build a new worldview around a deeper sense of connectedness.

Honghe Hani Rice Terraces in Yunnan Province, China.. Credit: By Jialiang Gao, www.peace-on-earth.org – Original Photograph via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0.

What do all these ideas have in common—a tax on carbon, big investments in renewable energy, a livable minimum wage, and freely accessible healthcare? The answer is that we need all of them, but even taken together they’re utterly insufficient to redirect humanity away from impending catastrophe and toward a truly flourishing future.

That’s because the problems these ideas are designed to solve, critical as they are, are symptoms of an even more profound problem: the implicit values of a global economic and political system that is driving civilization toward a precipice.

Even with the best of intentions, those actively working to reform the current system are a bit like software engineers valiantly trying to fix multiple bugs in a faulty software program: each fix complicates the code, leading inevitably to a new set of bugs that require even more heroic workarounds. Ultimately, it becomes clear that the problem isn’t just the software: an entirely new operating system is required to get where we need to go.

This realization dawned on me gradually over the years I spent researching my book, The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity’s Search for Meaning. My research began as a personal search for meaning. I’d been through a personal crisis when the certainties on which I’d built my early life came crashing down around me. I wanted my life going forward to be truly meaningful—but based on what foundation? I was determined to sort through the received narratives of meaning until I came across a foundation I could really believe in.

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

Paul Ehrlich: ‘Collapse of civilisation is a near certainty within decades’

Fifty years after the publication of his controversial book The Population Bomb, biologist Paul Ehrlich warns overpopulation and overconsumption are driving us over the edge

The toxification of the planet with synthetic chemicals may be more dangerous to people and wildlife than climate change, says Ehrlich.
The toxification of the planet with synthetic chemicals may be more dangerous to people and wildlife than climate change, says Ehrlich. Photograph: Linh Pham/Getty Images

Ashattering collapse of civilisation is a “near certainty” in the next few decades due to humanity’s continuing destruction of the natural world that sustains all life on Earth, according to biologist Prof Paul Ehrlich.

In May, it will be 50 years since the eminent biologist published his most famous and controversial book, The Population Bomb. But Ehrlich remains as outspoken as ever.

Prof Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University.
Pinterest
Prof Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

The world’s optimum population is less than two billion people – 5.6 billion fewer than on the planet today, he argues, and there is an increasing toxification of the entire planet by synthetic chemicals that may be more dangerous to people and wildlife than climate change.

Ehrlich also says an unprecedented redistribution of wealth is needed to end the over-consumption of resources, but “the rich who now run the global system – that hold the annual ‘world destroyer’ meetings in Davos – are unlikely to let it happen”.

The Population Bomb, written with his wife Anne Ehrlich in 1968, predicted “hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death” in the 1970s – a fate that was avoided by the green revolution in intensive agriculture.

Many details and timings of events were wrong, Paul Ehrlich acknowledges today, but he says the book was correct overall.

“Population growth, along with over-consumption per capita, is driving civilisation over the edge: billions of people are now hungry or micronutrient malnourished, and climate disruption is killing people.”

Ehrlich has been at Stanford University since 1959 and is also president of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere, which works “to reduce the threat of a shattering collapse of civilisation”.

“It is a near certainty in the next few decades, and the risk is increasing continually as long as perpetual growth of the human enterprise remains the goal of economic and political systems,” he says. “As I’ve said many times, ‘perpetual growth is the creed of the cancer cell’.”

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

 

The Big Story

The Big Story

Can We Change Civilization by Changing Its Origin Story?

The Slave Market – Gustave Boulanger Public Domain

How did humans go from savanna-dwelling primates to moon-bouncing Tide Pod™ eaters? This is the big question that Big History has been trying to answer for millennia. Sure, other ages may have framed the question differently.

Pre-Internet historian Herodotus may have asked, How did humans get from Promethean clay to Babylon? Mass death enthusiast Christopher Columbus may have asked (he didn’t), How did humans get from biblical clay to Indian gold? But for the past few hundred years, the Big Thinkers, from Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Jared Diamond, have generally agreed on the basic contours of our history:

Humans set out on our baffling journey in a pristine Garden of Eden, living benignly in small bands of hunting and gathering primitives. They would dance, copulate, and paint in caves in an egalitarian state of nature, or a nasty, brutish one depending on your temperament and desire for couch cushions, cotton cuffs, and monarchy. Our fall from Eden came with the slithering of agrarian city-states into our lives. As soon as we began cultivating beans and beer, the story goes, we had to build a large bureaucratic apparatus to manage all the products and people populating these nascent city-states. Given the complexity of this task, dictators, kings, and emperors – keen administrators, that is – were unfortunately necessary to organize this dense population into productive workers. Most of the people living in this new thing called “civilization” would have to toil as slaves, alas. Sorry, this is just the Faustian bargain one must make to enjoy cities and storable food: wage/chattel slavery and all-powerful despots in exchange for literature, indoor plumbing, and memes.

But anthropologist and author of Debt: The First 5,000 Years, David Graeber, is having none of it. In a recent piece published in Eurozine, he and UCL archaeology professor David Wengrow argue that this story is all wrong. Instead, the Davids suggest, the story is a lot messier and a lot more open to alternative forms of civilization and economy:

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

 

Energy prospects: little to Smil about?

Energy prospects: little to Smil about?

Last week saw much of Britain in the grip of uncharacteristic snowstorms and freezing temperatures. The picture shows the woods near my holding in their snowy raiment. I thought it would be crowded when I went walking there, because it’s usually a popular spot. But with the roads impassable, it was almost deserted. Ah yes, traffic chaos – the cue for the usual British complaints about how bad we are at coping with a bit of snow (I always think a bad feature of British culture is our readiness to complain about how bad we are at things). No doubt it’s possible to blame the government (another common British pastime, though one I suspect not limited to this country alone) but the truth is we hardly ever have snow like this, and it would be pointless to stand constantly prepared for it. When I’ve been in places where heavy snows are a regular occurrence, what’s struck me most is the enormous fossil energy input invested in the snowploughs, gritting trucks, snow blowers, 4WDs, heating systems and so forth. All that ancient sunlight invested in keeping modern people moving, no matter what. In the 19th century Russia of Turgenev’s Sketches From A Hunter’s Album that I’m currently reading, what’s striking is that when travellers get hit by inclement weather they basically stay put, sometimes for weeks on end. Though to be fair, travelling in 19th century Russia was mostly a pursuit of the wealthy few. There’s nothing like serfdom for keeping you close to home.

Anyway, this is all vaguely relevant to my present theme, which is some thoughts on Vaclav Smil’s Energy and Civilization: A History (MIT Press, 2017). It’s hard to keep up with Smil’s output, since he seems to produce about three books every year, but I find him an interesting writer.

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

Old Age and Societal Decline

Old Age and Societal Decline

People grow old and die. Civilizations eventually fail. For centuries amateur philosophers have used the former as a metaphor for the latter, leading to a few useful insights and just as many misleading generalizations. The comparison becomes more immediately interesting as our own civilization stumbles blindly toward collapse. While not the cheeriest of subjects, it’s worth exploring.

A metaphor is not an explanation.

First, it’s important to point out that serious contemporary researchers studying the phenomenon of societal collapse generally find little or no explanatory value in the metaphorical link with individual human mortality.

The reasons for individual decline and death have to do with genetics, disease, nutrition, and personal history (including accidents and habits such as smoking). We are all genetically programmed to age and die, though lifespans differ greatly.

Reasons for societal decline appear to have little or nothing to do with genetics. Some complex societies have failed due to invasion by foreign marauders (and sometimes the diseases they brought); others have succumbed to resource depletion, unforeseeable natural catastrophe, or class conflict. Anthropologist Joseph Tainter proposed what is perhaps the best general theory of collapse in his 1988 book The Collapse of Complex Societies, which argued that the development of societal complexity is a problem-solving strategy that’s subject to diminishing marginal returns. Once a civilization’s return on investment in complexity goes negative, that civilization becomes vulnerable to stresses of all sorts that it previously could have withstood.

There is a superficial similarity between individual aging, on one hand, and societal vulnerability once returns on investments in complexity have gone negative, on the other. In both cases, what would otherwise be survivable becomes deadly—whether it’s a fall on an uneven sidewalk or a barbarian invasion. But this similarity doesn’t provide explanatory value in either case. No physician or historian will be able to do her job better by use of the metaphor.

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

How Big a Disaster Can Climate Change Be?  

How Big a Disaster Can Climate Change Be?  

Above, you can see an image from the paper by Marsicek et al., just appeared on Nature. It shows a reconstruction from pollen records of the temperatures of the past 10,000 year or so, the “Holocene,” for North America and Europe. Note the black squares, showing how fast temperatures have been growing during the past 50 years or so.
As all reconstructions of the past, this one has to be taken with some caution, but it fits well with the various “hockey sticks” that research continues to produce despite the attempts to discredit both the science and the scientists who work in this field. So, we can assume these results to be reasonably reliable. Then, we can note a few interesting things.
1. What we call “civilization” arose and continued to exist during a period of relatively constant temperatures, that is, during the past 5000 years or so. During this period, the oscillations in the graph are never more than about half a degree. That’s probably not a coincidence. Agriculture and civilization come together and it is unlikely that agriculture could have been developed for wildly oscillating temperatures and rapidly varying climates
2. Civilizations seem to grow and collapse because of internal factors – the fall of empires doesn’t seem to be correlated to climate change. For instance, you can look in the graph for the data corresponding to the fall of the Roman Empire, between 2000 and 1500 years ago. Temperatures are flat, at most cooling a little. It is a point that I already made on the basis of another set of data specific for the region occupied by the Roman Empire. These more detailed data show a cooling period in Europe, but after the fall of the Empire.

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

“The collapse of our civilization is not a political issue.” Really??

“The collapse of our civilization is not a political issue.” Really??

The cover article of New Scientist this week asks “Is Western civilization on the brink of collapse?” I’m glad they’re raising this question, but their discussion was extremely disappointing.

First, as George Monbiot points out in a follow-up article, the article fails to distinguish between Western and global civilization, conflating two very different issues: 1.) the recent historical dominance of the West over the rest of the world, and  2.) the unsustainable dynamics of our global civilization.

Worse, in their editorial, they argue that on the issues of climate breakdown and environmental collapse, those raising the alarm have “prematurely politicised the science and hence provoked pushback from people on the other side of the fence.” To me, that reads like saying that those who argue that the Earth orbits the Sun have prematurely provoked pushback from the Flat Earth Society by emphasizing the role of gravity. It’s the kind of thinking that grants false equivalency to climate deniers and leads to pseudo-scientists funded by the Koch brothers getting equal television time to real scientists representing 98% of scientific opinion.

Bill Nye and climate deniers
Arguing against “politicizing” civilizational collapse is the same mindset that leads to offering equal TV time to pseudo-scientific climate deniers

As I describe in my recent article, “What Will It Really Take to Avoid Collapse?“, the underlying drivers impelling our global civilization to the precipice are the economic structures of a global capitalist growth-based system driven by massive transnational corporations that are more powerful than individual nations. Since politics is, by definition, about the dynamics of power and governance, how is it possible either to diagnose the problem or suggest solutions without it being political?

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

Old Age and Societal Decline

People grow old and die. Civilizations eventually fail. For centuries amateur philosophers have used the former as a metaphor for the latter, leading to a few useful insights and just as many misleading generalizations. The comparison becomes more immediately interesting as our own civilization stumbles blindly toward collapse. While not the cheeriest of subjects, it’s worth exploring.

A metaphor is not an explanation.

First, it’s important to point out that serious contemporary researchers studying the phenomenon of societal collapse generally find little or no explanatory value in the metaphorical link with individual human mortality.

The reasons for individual decline and death have to do with genetics, disease, nutrition, and personal history (including accidents and habits such as smoking). We are all genetically programmed to age and die, though lifespans differ greatly.

Reasons for societal decline appear to have little or nothing to do with genetics. Some complex societies have failed due to invasion by foreign marauders (and sometimes the diseases they brought); others have succumbed to resource depletion, unforeseeable natural catastrophe, or class conflict. Anthropologist Joseph Tainter proposed what is perhaps the best general theory of collapse in his 1988 book The Collapse of Complex Societies, which argued that the development of societal complexity is a problem-solving strategy that’s subject to diminishing marginal returns. Once a civilization’s return on investment in complexity goes negative, that civilization becomes vulnerable to stresses of all sorts that it previously could have withstood.

There is a superficial similarity between individual aging, on one hand, and societal vulnerability once returns on investments in complexity have gone negative, on the other. In both cases, what would otherwise be survivable becomes deadly—whether it’s a fall on an uneven sidewalk or a barbarian invasion. But this similarity doesn’t provide explanatory value in either case. No physician or historian will be able to do her job better by use of the metaphor.

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

How A North Korean Electromagnetic Pulse Attack Could Kill Millions And Turn America Into A Post-Apocalyptic Wasteland

How A North Korean Electromagnetic Pulse Attack Could Kill Millions And Turn America Into A Post-Apocalyptic Wasteland

This is why North Korea’s test of an intercontinental ballistic missile is so important.  North Korea had test fired a total of 22 missiles so far this year, but this latest one showed that nobody on the globe is out of their reach.  In fact, General Mattis is now admitting that “North Korea can basically threaten everywhere in the world”, and that includes the entire continental United States.  In addition to hitting individual cities with nukes, there is also the possibility that someday North Korea could try to take down the entire country with an EMP attack.  If the North Koreans detonated a single nuclear warhead several hundred miles above the center of the country, it would destroy the power grid and fry electronics from coast to coast.

I would like you to think about what that would mean for a few moments.  Suddenly there would be no power at home, at work or at school.  Since nearly all of our vehicles rely on computerized systems, you wouldn’t be able to go anywhere and nobody would be able to get to you.  And you wouldn’t be able to contact anyone because all phones would be dead.  Basically, pretty much everything electronic would be dead.  I am talking about computers, televisions, GPS devices, ATMs, heating and cooling systems, refrigerators, credit card readers, gas pumps, cash registers, hospital equipment, traffic lights, etc.

For the first couple of days life would continue somewhat normally, but then people would soon start to realize that the power isn’t coming back on and panic would begin to erupt.

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

Taxes the Lynch-Pin of Civilization

QUESTION: Mr. Armstrong: I find it disheartening the more I try to advance my family to build a better future for them, the more I realize that the harder I work we do not really get ahead. I agree that taxes just keep moving higher and I am now looking for a job in my field to leave California. A friend of mine from school left Illinois and moved to Texas. He said he feels much better and is gaining ground instead of losing it. Has taxes been the driving force to create migration in advanced civilization?

ANSWER: Absolutely. I have written how Rome fell and just mapping the population of Rome you can see the fate of Illinois – people sell and just leave. It is different this time because, under socialism, the government has become abusive. When it came to integration, they sought to implement it by sheer force.

You simply can’t legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity. Jobs are created by the wealthy who become wealthy because of their innovation as a vision – i.e. Henry Ford, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and so on. Hemry Ford’s vision created the auto industry. Bill Gates in bringing DOS to life, created the personal computer industry as did Steve Jobs. How much employment did just those three men create? Far more than government.

Government creates nothing to advance society or to increase GDP in any positive manner. It is a natural human response not to pay taxes and this is why taxes have been the number one reason for civil war and revolution. It is always resentful to pay taxes whereas to give money to help someone is rewarding. Taxes tend to support politicians and their pensions which they exempt themselves from everything from Inside Trading to Obamacare. If they must sell some asset to take a government job, it is tax-free.

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

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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