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Ecocide as Creative Destruction

Ecocide as Creative Destruction

According to the WWF (World Wildlife Fund), since 1970 60% of the mammals, birds, fish and reptiles on the planet have been driven to extinction. To the extent that the WWF has it right, climate change accounts for less than 10% of these losses (graph below). As important and logistically complex as resolving climate change is, it is but one of a host of environmental ills in equal or greater need of resolution.

Habitat degradation and loss and animal exploitation (e.g. trawl-net fishing) explain most of this animal extinction. Habitat loss is primarily due to deforestation to feed factory farm animalsAccording to the Guardian, these animal losses would require 5 – 7 million years to recover from. But as of today, the causes of extinction continue unabated with no plausible plans being put forward by national governments to address it.

Graph: Of the mass extinction of animals that the WWF is reporting, most comes from habitat loss and degradation. Climate change explains less than 10% of the losses. The point isn’t to downplay climate change, but to express the breadth of the environmental crisis that the world now faces. While the role of global warming will increase in time, mass extinction is at present a related but separate crisis in need of resolution. Source: wwf.org.uk.

As reported hereand here, the animal extinction isn’t anomalous. Over approximately the same time frame, 60% – 80% of insects have also been made extinct. The precise balance of causes is debatable, but putting climate change forwardas the primary cause reframes the concept of a ‘carbon budget’ in wildly alarming terms. If the one-degreeCelsius warming experienced to date explains the insect extinction, where does that leave the IPCC’s1.5 degree warming ‘budget?’

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

Can an Unequal Earth Beat Climate Change?

Disappearing Acts

Disappearing Acts

We are living in an age of loss: the sixth mass extinction. Following this year’s shocking report that the planet has lost half its wildlife in the past 40 years, and the 2018 Remembrance Day for Lost Species, I wrote this piece on art and disappearance for Dark Mountain’s ‘The Vanishing’ section. Here we look not only to extinction – the deaths of entire species – but to the quieter extirpations and losses that are steadily stripping our world of its complexity and beauty. How do we, as writers and artists, stay human during such times? .

What does it mean to disappear? It’s a cold night and I am shivering outside the Café de Paris in London. I’m standing behind Trevor, hoping that his TV producer status will get me in, when Karen Binns, doorkeeper to this hippest of ’90s dance nights, lets me through. It’s over for you, she laughs, which in her Brooklyn back-to-front street talk, means it’s happening for me. As it turns out it was prophetic both ways. Because the last time I saw her was at a family gathering a year later, as I was about to leave the city.

She’s out of here, she announced to the chattering table. Everyone just carried on talking.
It’s two minutes to twelve, she said.

What does any of this have to do with extinction you might ask? Bear with me. To know how to deal with disappearance, you have to know about your own. To know that when you go, there is a world of difference between being ignored and being seen.

For a few weeks now. I’ve been wondering what to write about extinction. Does the world need another elegant essay on nature in peril, another rant about palm oil deforestation?

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

Biological Annihilation: a Planet in Loss Mode

Biological Annihilation: a Planet in Loss Mode

If you’ve been paying attention to what’s happening to the nonhuman life forms with which we share this planet, you’ve likely heard the term “the Sixth Extinction.” If not, look it up.  After all, a superb environmental reporter, Elizabeth Kolbert, has already gotten a Pulitzer Prize for writing a book with that title.

Whether the sixth mass species extinction of Earth’s history is already (or not quite yet) underway may still be debatable, but it’s clear enough that something’s going on, something that may prove even more devastating than a mass of species extinctions: the full-scale winnowing of vast populations of the planet’s invertebrates, vertebrates, and plants.  Think of it, to introduce an even broader term, as a wave of “biological annihilation” that includes possible species extinctions on a mass scale, but also massive species die-offs and various kinds of massacres.

Someday, such a planetary winnowing may prove to be the most tragic of all the grim stories of human history now playing out on this planet, even if to date it’s gotten far less attention than the dangers of climate change.  In the end, it may prove more difficult to mitigate than global warming.  Decarbonizing the global economy, however hard, won’t be harder or more improbable than the kind of wholesale restructuring of modern life and institutions that would prevent species annihilation from continuing.

With that in mind, come along with me on a topsy-turvy journey through the animal and plant kingdoms to learn a bit more about the most consequential global challenge of our time.

Insects Are Vanishing

When most of us think of animals that should be saved from annihilation, near the top of any list are likely to be the stars of the animal world: tigers and polar bears, orcas and orangutans, elephants and rhinos, and other similarly charismatic creatures.

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Employment, Ecology, Extinction: French Students Take on the System to Save the Species

Employment, Ecology, Extinction: French Students Take on the System to Save the Species

Photo Source Manifeste étudiant pour un réveil écologique | CC BY 2.0

It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.

– Upton Sinclair

On my last day of teaching Environmental Studies, I posed a question to my students. I explained that for some time in my childhood, my father worked in the airline industry. “What does this have to do with the environment?” I asked. Sadly, even after an entire semester, few if any of my students could make the connection. Air transportation is one of the most polluting industries. Depending on the type of car you use and the amount you use it, one to two flights can generate the same amount of carbon emissions as a whole year of driving. From the consumption of fossil fuels, to the toxic substances utilized or emitted such as jet fuel and de-icing fluid, to all of the disposable products and packages within the plane and the airport, to so much more, there is nothing sustainable at all about air travel. Thus, for a part of my childhood, the majority of our family income was derived from a highly polluting industry that has contributed greatly to the dire environmental predicament we are currently facing.

Of course, mine is not the only family whose income is linked to environmental destruction. In fact, one could make the case that nearly all American households, especially the most affluent, have made their money through directly or indirectly exploiting and polluting the environment (and often exploiting people as well). For example, a conference on “Peace Engineering” just concluded, which implored engineers to consider “ethics, social good, the biases and unintended consequences of the technology they build.”

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

The Extinction Rebellion–A Tipping Point for the Climate Emergency?

THE EXTINCTION REBELLION – A TIPPING POINT FOR THE CLIMATE EMERGENCY?

The only rational response to the scientific evidence on climate change, is to declare a global emergency – to mobilise all of society to do whatever it takes to fix it. As the UN Secretary General Guterres recently stated: “We face a direct existential threat”.

Failure is really not an option when “failure” means we could “annihilate intelligent life or permanently and drastically curtail its potential”  This is now a war for civilisation’s survival. [1]

Meanwhile we blunder on…. Deeply committed to making verbal commitments, while delivering pathetically inadequate actual responses. Responses that treat the clear and urgent advice of the world’s top scientists – that we face the risk of global collapse – as merely passing thoughts to be casually contemplated.

Well, time’s up. To quote Winston Churchill: “Owing to past neglect, in the face of the plainest warnings, we have entered upon a period of danger.  The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedients of delays, is coming to its close.  In its place we are entering a period of consequences …We cannot avoid this period, we are in it now…”

Enter the Extinction Rebellion.

This is group of people who have simply had enough. They have looked at the science and concluded that the world has gone mad, that we now face the risk of extinction. And they’ve decided not to stand by in the face of that – but instead to rebel against the madness that has overtaken us. To try to shock us all into action, to face up to reality.

Extreme? Over-reaction? Maybe. But maybe not.

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

Extinction and Responsibility: Why Climate Disaster Might Heal Us Even As it Kills Us

Extinction and Responsibility: Why Climate Disaster Might Heal Us Even As it Kills Us

If climate disaster has left us with no future do we still feel responsible to the earth that outlives us? Or do we say “who cares?”

If we say “who cares?” then our sense of responsibility was never anything more than a moral rule, a business deal of sorts, where we agreed to behave honorably as long as we were allowed to project our egos into future generations. But I think real empathy for a world without us is still possible, and I think it matters in some way that can’t be calculated on a strictly transactional basis.

The possibility of near-term extinction is new, but the underlying dilemma this presents is as old as the Big Bang, or older. Death is death. It comes to the individual as surely as it comes to the species, the planet, and the exploding universe itself. What’s different now is only this onrushing inability to avoidfacing this fact. And I think this is a good thing, because it forces a confrontation with the many reductive delusions that have limited our creative participation in the world, which is our responsibility to something more than ourselves. The chief among these limitations has been a strict and too literal image of who we are, an identity that keeps us trapped in a solipsistic circle.

This is especially true in America, where even in 1838, broad-minded Emerson stood out as an exception:

“This country has not fulfilled what seemed the reasonable expectation of mankind. Men looked, when all feudal straps and bandages were snapped asunder, that nature, too long the mother of dwarfs, should reimburse itself by a brood of Titans, who should laugh and leap in the continent, and run up the mountains of the West with the errand of genius and of love.

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

Civilization as asteroid: humans, livestock, and extinctions

Civilization as asteroid: humans, livestock, and extinctions

Humans and our livestock now make up 97 percent of all animals on land.  Wild animals (mammals and birds) have been reduced to a mere remnant: just 3 percent.  This is based on mass.  Humans and our domesticated animals outweigh all terrestrial wild mammals and birds 32-to-1.

To clarify, if we add up the weights of all the people, cows, sheep, pigs, horses, dogs, chickens, turkeys, etc., that total is 32 times greater than the weight of all the wild terrestrial mammals and birds: all the elephants, mice, kangaroos, lions, raccoons, bats, bears, deer, wolves, moose, chickadees, herons, eagles, etc.  A specific example is illuminating: the biomass of chickens is more than double the total mass of all other birds combined.

Before the advent of agriculture and human civilizations, however, the opposite was the case: wild animals and birds dominated, and their numbers and mass were several times greater than their numbers and mass today. Before the advent of agriculture, about 11,000 years ago, humans made up just a tiny fraction of animal biomass, and domesticated livestock did not exist.  The current situation—the domination of the Earth by humans and our food animals—is a relatively recent development.

The preceding observations are based on a May 2018 report by Yinon Bar-On, Rob Phillips, and Ron Milo published in the academic journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  Bar-On and his coauthors use a variety of sources to construct a “census of the biomass of Earth”; they estimate the mass of all the plants, animals, insects, bacteria, and other living things on our planet.

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Facing The (Horrible) Future

kienyke.com

Facing The (Horrible) Future

Our fate directly depends on our courage to change it

I’d like to tell you a short story based on a movie that has had a profound impact on me.

I’ll get to the story in a moment, but first, a little background on the movie…

It’s called Griefwalker (by Tim Wilson) and it focuses on the life and wisdom of Stephen Jenkinson, a theologian and philosopher who worked as an end-of-life specialist for many years.  Because we all must face death in our lives, inevitably our own someday, I highly recommend this movie and Stephen’s work to everyone.

After sitting at the death beds of a thousand individuals, Stephen has accumulated a wisdom regarding the process of dying that is perhaps unmatched in our modern times. His views and insights are extraordinarily powerful and extremely well-delivered in the movie.

Stephen is a blunt yet thoughtful man, and my own interview with him (Living with Meaning) remains one of my all-time favorites.

At one point in Griefwalker, Stephen was lobbed what I’m sure the interviewer thought was a soft-ball question.  From memory, and I last watched the movie a few years ago so I’m certain to have this inexactly recalled, it was along the lines of “So, Stephen, you’ve learned how to ease people through the process of dying. How is that done?”  I guess the idea was that after being so steeped and skilled at shepherding people through the process of dying, Stephen had arrived at some tidy formula for making it as gentle as possible.

Without blinking Stephen said, “Oh no. Dying for most people these days is horrible.”  After a few shocked fumbly moments by the interviewer, and I confess to having been shocked too, Stephen continued, explaining that the physical process of dying can certainly be managed easily and well with palliative care, but the emotional journey can be quite terrifying (at first).

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

Everything That Dies Does Not Come Back


Charles Sprague Pearce The Arab jeweler c1882

There are a lot of industries in our world that wreak outsized amounts of havoc. Think the biggest global banks and oil companies. Think plastics. But there is one field that is much worse than all others: agro-chemicals. At some point, not that long ago, the largest chemical producers, who until then had kept themselves busy producing Agent Orange, nerve agents and chemicals used in concentration camp showers, got the idea to use their products in food production.

While they had started out with fertilizers etc., they figured making crops fully dependent on their chemicals would be much more lucrative. They bought themselves ever more seeds and started manipulating them. And convinced more and more farmers, or rather food agglomerates, that if there were ‘pests’ that threatened their yields, they should simply kill them, rather than use natural methods to control them.

And in monocultures that actually makes sense. It’s the monoculture itself that doesn’t. What works in nature is (bio)diversity. It’s the zenith of cynicism that the food we need to live is now produced by a culture of death. Because that is what Monsanto et al represent: Their solution to whatever problem farmers may face is to kill it with poison. But that will end up killing the entire ecosystem a farmer operates within, and depends on.

However, the Monsantos of the planet produce much more ‘research’ material than anybody else, and it all says that the demise of ecosystems into which their products are introduced, has nothing to do with these products. And by the time anyone can prove the opposite, it will be too late: the damage will have been done through cross-pollination. Monsanto can then sue anyone who has crops that show traces of its genetically altered proprietary seeds, even if the last thing a farmer wants is to include those traces.

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

Making It To The 4th Second

Prince Ea

Making It To The 4th Second

A hard-hitting delivery of the predicament humanity faces

Our work here at PeakProsperity.com focuses on raising awareness of the serious challenges facing humanity as we continue to live well beyond our economic, energetic and ecological means.

Through the Three Es framework presented in The Crash Course, we’ve engaged millions of critical thinkers around the world. And we’ve inspired many of them to invest in a more resilient lifestyle, for their sake as well as the planet’s.

But at this point, we’re still only talking to a small minority of the people in the world. And we’re always looking for new channels, new approaches, and new partners that can help get this message out to a wider audience: If humanity wants a future worth inheriting, we need to become agents of regeneration, not destruction.

We especially keep an eye out for effective vehicles that resonante with a younger demographic. The millennials and the generations behind them are the ones who need this information most, as they’re the ones who will experience the full brunt of the Three Es during their lifetimes and on whose shoulders the responsibility of finding solutions will rest.

But as older guys in our forties and fifties, Chris and I realize that we’re probably not the most compelling messengers to this segment. So we’re constantly looking for others who can be.

In that vein, this short video below from Prince Ea recently caught my attention. It delivers a hard-hitting emotional call-to-action for sustainability and resilience using much of the same data we frequently cite here at Peak Prosperity:

If there are people in your life, especially younger ones, whom you think would benefit from watching this video and contemplating the existential question it poses (Will we adapt our behavior in time to make it to the 4th Second?), please share it with them.

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

Extinction vs. Collapse

Extinction vs. Collapse

Does it Matter?

Climate twitter – the most fun twitter – has recently been relitigating the debate between human extinction and mere civilizational collapse, between doom and gloom, despair and (kind of) hope. It was sparked by an interview in The Guardian with acclaimed scientist Mayer Hillman. He argues that we’re probably doomed, and confronting the likelihood that we’re rushing toward collective death may be necessary to save us.

The headline alone provoked a lot of reactions, many angered by the ostensible defeatism embedded in Hillman’s comments. His stated view represents one defined camp that is mostly convinced of looming human extinction. It stands in contrast to another group that believes human extinction is highly unlikely, maybe impossible, and certainly will not occur due to climate change in our lifetimes. Collapse maybe, but not extinction.

Who’s more right? Let’s take a closer look.

First, the question of human extinction is totally bounded by uncertainty. There’s uncertainty in climate data, uncertainty in models and projections, and even more uncertainty in the behavior of human systems. We don’t know how we’ll respond to the myriad impacts climate change is beginning to spark, and we don’t know how sensitive industrial civilization will be to those impacts.

We don’t really know if humans are like other apex predators highly sensitive to ecological collapse, or are among the most adaptable mammals to ever walk the earth. One may be inclined to lean toward the latter given that humans have colonized every ecological niche on the planet except Antarctica. That bands of people can survive in and around deserts as well as the Arctic as well as equatorial rainforests speaks to the resilience of small social groups.

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

Societal Death or Transfiguration? Cinema Visions of Humanity Facing Extinction

Societal Death or Transfiguration? Cinema Visions of Humanity Facing Extinction

Still from “Downsizing.”

How should world society respond to the approach of human extinction compelled by implacable external forces, such as: radioactive fallout after a global nuclear war (as in Nevil Shute’s novel On the Beach), or an alien invasion by a species of technologically superior beings from outer space, or an impending collision between Earth and a massive planetoid, or (as seems most likely today) by runaway and irreversible Climate Change?

The general question has long been the seed for spinning out entertaining speculations in fantasy novels and science-fiction movies, but now it has become a serious matter of immediate concern for an increasing number of geo- and social- scientists and social planners. Mayer Hillman, an 86-year-old social scientist, urban planner and senior fellow emeritus of the Policy Studies Institute in England, says (in an article published by The Guardian on 26 April 2018:

“We’re doomed. — The outcome is death, and it’s the end of most life on the planet because we’re so dependent on the burning of fossil fuels. There are no means of reversing the process which is melting the polar ice caps. And very few appear to be prepared to say so. — I’m not going to write anymore [about the projected consequences of runaway Climate Change] because there’s nothing more that can be said. — With doom ahead, making a case for cycling as the primary mode of transport [instead of automobiles] is almost irrelevant. — We’ve got to stop burning fossil fuels. So many aspects of life depend on fossil fuels, except for music and love and education and happiness.

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

The Science of a Vanishing Planet


Dorothea Lange Gravestone St. George, Utah 1953
There are numerous ways to define the Precautionary Principle. It’s something we can all intuitively understand, but which many parties seek ways to confuse since it has the potential to stand in the way of profits. Still, in the end it should all be about proof, not profits. That is exactly what the Principle addresses. Because if you first need to deliver scientific proof that some action or product can be harmful to mankind and/or the natural world, you run the risk of inflicting irreversible damage before that proof can be delivered.

In one of many definitions, the 1998 Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle says: “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.”

Needless to say, that doesn’t easily fly in our age of science and money. Cigarette makers, car manufacturers and oil companies, just to name a few among a huge number of industries, are all literally making a killing while the Precautionary Principle is being ignored. Even as it is being cited in many international treaties. Lip service “R” us. Are these industries to blame when they sell us our products, or are we for buying them? That’s where governments must come in to educate us about risks. Which they obviously do not.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb -of Black Swan and Antifragile fame- has made the case, in his usual strong fashion, for applying the Precautionary Principle when it comes to GMOs. His argument is that allowing genetically modified organisms in our eco- and foodsystems carries unknown risks that we have no way of overseeing, and that these risks may cause irreversible damage to the very systems mankind relies on for survival.

Taleb is not popular among GMO producers. Who all insist there is no evidence that their products cause harm. But that is not the point. The Precautionary Principle, if it is to be applied, must turn the burden of proof on its head. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Monsanto et al must prove that their products do no harm. They can not. Which is why they have, and need, huge lobbying, PR and legal departments.

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

Normalizing Extinction

Normalizing Extinction

Photo by Brian Gratwicke | CC BY 2.0

Several years back I had the good fortune of traveling through the rainforest in a remote part of Panama. Along the way I stayed in a small cabin at an ecolodge with the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea just steps away. There were no roads, televisions, or internet access, and no phones or electricity except in the main house. Out back was a trail that meandered through a dense forest brimming with tree frogs, sloths, iguanas, leaf cutter ants, and countless species of birds hopping from branch to branch. Just a couple feet into the water and I counted dozens of bright orange sea stars. And at night the sea shore came alive with biolumeniscent dinoflagellates, who would respond to my flashlight signals in short bursts of blue-green neon and the canopy was a cacophony of countless species in song. The abundance of life in that tiny corner of the world crowded out most signals of modern civilization.

But as with any trip like this, I eventually had to return home where the reality of “The Great Dying” is everywhere. Like climate change, the Sixth Mass Extinction, is not a hyperbolic, political trope. It is in fact the death of most complex forms of life on earth at our own hands. And by all accounts, with mass die offs of bees, coral, salmon, frogs and beyond, it is in full swing. Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction makes this plain:

“If we assume, very conservatively, that there are two million species in the tropical rainforests, this means that something like five thousand species are being lost each year. This comes to roughly fourteen species a day, or one every hundred minutes.”

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

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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