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The fat-takers cross the oceans

The fat-takers cross the oceans

Ecological overshoot is a global crisis today, but the problem did not begin with the fossil fuel age. From its beginnings more than five centuries ago, European colonization has been based on an unsustainable exploitation of resources.

In Seeker of Visions, John (Fire) Lame Deer says “The Sioux have a name for white men. They call them wasicun – fat-takers. It is a good name, because you have taken the fat of the land.”

The term, often also written as “wasi’chu”, has engendered discussion as to what the words originally meant in the Lakota language.1 In any case, the phrase “fat-takers” seemed fitting to Lame Deer, it caught on quite widely – and it took literal meaning to me as I learned more about the history of European colonization.

When I wrote a newspaper review of a then-new book by Farley Mowat in the 1980s, I couldn’t help but recall Lame Deer’s words. Nearly thirty years later, I’ve come to regard Mowat’s book, Sea of Slaughter, as a foundational study in biophysical economic history.

Here, Canadians may ask incredulously, “Since when was Farley Mowat a biophysical economist?” And readers from everywhere else are likely to ask “Farley who?” A brief bit of biography is in order.

Farley Mowat (1921 – 2014)  was one of the most successful Canadian writers of all time, author of dozens of best-selling books beginning in 1952 and continuing into the twenty-first century. He wrote in a popular style about his own experiences in Canada’s far north, the maritime provinces, travels in Siberia, and his life-long love of the natural world. Never shying from controversy, Mowat became a hero to many Canadians when he was banned from entering the US, and he was vilified by many for his support of the direct-action Sea Shepherd Conservation Society which named two of its ships in his honour…

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

canada, farley mowat, an outside chance,

Zero by 2050 or 2030? 1.5°C or 2°C? Overshoot or not? Demystifying carbon budgets.

Zero by 2050 or 2030? 1.5°C or 2°C? Overshoot or not? Demystifying carbon budgets.


Confused about carbon budgets for the Paris climate  goals? Zero by 2050 or 2030? 1.5°C or 2°C? Overshoot or not?
There is a maze of contradictory positions,  claiming to be based on research evidence. But the assumptions behind much of that evidence obscures some startling conclusions.

The Breakthough Briefing Note on “Carbon budgets for 1.5 & 2°C”,  released today, explores some of the myths and realities about the Paris Agreement targets and the associated carbon budgets, and what it would really take to achieve them.

The main findings are:

  • IPCC carbon budgets underestimate current and future warming, omit important climate system feedback mechanisms, and make dangerous assumptions about risk-management.
  • 1.5°C of warming is likely by 2030 or earlier, a product of past emissions.
  • There is no carbon budget for the 1.5°C goal; such “budgets” rely on overshoot, with unrealistic reliance on speculative technologies.
  • The current level of greenhouse gases is enough for around 2°C of warming, or more.
  • 2°C of warming is far from safe, and may trigger the “Hothouse Earth” scenario.
  • There is no carbon budget for 2°C if a sensible risk-management approach is taken.
  • Even accepting the IPCC carbon budget for 2°C at face value, emissions need to be zero before 2030 for developed countries with higher per capita emissions.

And it’s not that this blog has been avoiding the issue of carbon budgets. Far from it! Our posts since 2009 include:

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

 

Dr. Geert Vanden Bossche on Vaccination Policy Risks

Dr. Geert Vanden Bossche on Vaccination Policy Risks

Synopsis

Geert Vanden Bossche, a vaccine expert with 3o years experience, thinks our vaccination policy has a high probability of causing the virus to mutate into variants that cause more serious illness, and that people who have been vaccinated will spread the virus rather than protecting those that have not been vaccinated, and that the immune systems of vaccinated people will be less effective at fighting future variants of the virus.

Bossche believes we are on the cusp of creating a global catastrophe and is asking the WHO to change course, and is calling on other scientists to engage in scientific review and debate of the risks.

Background

Thanks to Nehemiah @ OFW for bringing Bossche to my attention.

I posted some of this material in the comments section of the last post, but after further review and thought, I decided it’s important enough to warrant its own post.

My initial reaction was to dismiss Bossche as yet another whack job / conspiracist / anti-vaxxer / pandemic denier. After reviewing Bossche’s credentials and thinking carefully about what he’s saying I concluded his concerns are worthy of consideration and may prove to be serious.

His message is a little difficult to understand because the topic is inherently complex, is not intuitive without some understanding of biology, and he speaks fast with an accent.

My objective of this post was to make it easier to understand Bossche’s key points, and to make all of his source information easily accessible.

In case any readers are wondering why I am distrustful of the authorities, it is because the biggest issue by far that we face, the danger of which far exceeds the virus, is human overshoot, the symptoms of which are climate change…

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

 

If humanity’s critical planetary overshoot is not corrected deliberately, nature will impose a chaotic implosion

If humanity’s critical planetary overshoot is not corrected deliberately, nature will impose a chaotic implosion

If we wish civilization to continue, human beings must learn to live more equitably, well within the means of nature” – William Rees. —

No 2709 Posted by fw, February 14, 2021 —

“So, if I can just summarize and put the choice before us –.

1/ Climate change is indeed a serious problem. We must deal with it.

2/ But it’s a mere symptom of a much greater disease, which is the generalized overshoot of the human population above and beyond the long-term carrying capacity of Earth. We cannot solve any of these problems in isolation, and doing so would be futile because the others would take us down. They are a collective issue under the umbrella of overshoot.

3/ Well, we are in that critical overshoot, and the present trajectory resembles a plague phase of a one-off population cycle. And if it is not corrected deliberately, it will crash.

4/ We may or may not already be on some critical tipping point, not only in climate but in other ways as well.

5/ In my view, in coming years, there’s no question that the human enterprise will contract.

6/ But, as an intelligent, planning-capable, moral species, we can theoretically make a choice between —

6(a) Insistence on “business as usual”, which risks, in my view, a chaotic implosion imposed by nature, followed by geopolitical turmoil and resource wars;

6(b) Or we can come together as a society, realize the flaws in our currently globally-shared constructed vision of reality, accept what our science is telling us, and, in that context, cooperate internationally toward a well-planned orderly and cooperative descent toward a socially just sustainability for all.

7/ So, human beings must learn — if we wish civilization to continue – to live much more equitably, well within the biophysical carrying capacity, well within the means of nature.” —William Rees

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

 

By William Rees – Climate change isn’t the problem, so what is?

By William Rees – Climate change isn’t the problem, so what is?

 

Thanks to friend and retired blogger Gail Zawacki at Wit’s End for bringing this excellent new talk by professor William Rees to my attention.

Rees discusses our severe state of ecological overshoot and the behaviors that prevent us from taking any useful action to make the future less bad.

Rees thinks there are two key behaviors responsible for our predicament:

  1. Base nature, which we share with all other species, to use all available resources. Most people call this the Maximum Power Principle.
  2. Creative nurture. Our learned culture defines our reality and we live this constructed reality as if it were real. “When faced with information that does not agree with their [preformed] internal structures, they deny, discredit, reinterpret or forget that information” – Wexler.

I don’t disagree with Rees on the existence or role of these behaviors, but we also need Varki’s MORT theory to explain how denial of unpleasant realties evolved and is symbiotic with our uniquely powerful intelligence, and other unique human behaviors, such as our belief in gods and life after death.

 

Some interesting points made by Rees:

  • The 2017 human eco-footprint exceeds biocapacity by 73%.
  • Half the fossil fuels and many other resources ever used by humans have been consumed in just the past 30 years.
  • Efficiency enables more consumption.
  • The past 7 years are the warmest 7 years on record.
  • Wild populations of birds, fish, mammals, and amphibians have declined 60% since 1970. Populations of many insects are down about 50%.
  • The biomass of humans and their livestock make up 95-99% of all vertebrate biomass on the planet.
  • Human population planning has declined from being the dominant policy lever in 1969 to the least researched in 2018.

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

un-Denial Manifesto: Energy and Denial

un-Denial Manifesto: Energy and Denial

Winners and Losers

Six years ago this essay launched and defined un-Denial.com. I’m featuring it on the home page to celebrate 500 posts.

This is the story of the two most important things that enabled the success and possible demise of humans: energy and denial.

Simple single cell (prokaryotic) life emerges as a gradual and predictable transition from geochemistry to biochemistry, in the presence of rock, water, CO2, and energy, all of which are found within alkaline hydrothermal vents on geologically active planets, of which there are 40 billion in our galaxy alone, and probably a similar number in each of the other 100 billion galaxies.

Simple life like bacteria and archaea is therefore probably common throughout the universe. Strong evidence for this is that prokaryotes appeared 4 billion years ago, as soon as the earth cooled down enough to support life, and never once winked out despite many calamities throughout geologic history.

LUCA (the Last Universal Common Ancestor), and all life that followed, is chemiosmotic meaning that it powers itself with an unintuitive mechanism that pumps protons across a membrane. This strange proton pump makes sense in the light of its hydrothermal vent origins. For a sense of the scale of life’s energy, consider that the human body pumps a staggering 10**21 protons per second of life.

The transition to, and existence of, complex multicellular life, like plants and animals, is much less predictable and certain. All of the complex life on earth has a common eukaryote ancestor, and it appears this ancestor emerged only once on Earth about 2 billion years ago. This is a vital but rarely acknowledged singularity in biology.

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

 

Climate Change and the Mitigation Myth

Climate Change and the Mitigation Myth

It is not nice to be told that you have been diagnosed with a terminal condition. It is even worse to be given false hope that if you did this or that you could mitigate the problem or turn it around when it cannot. If a medical practitioner does this, they lose their job. But climate scientists do this frequently, and probably to keep their job. It is virtue-signalling to agree with national and international climate agreements which propose that we can fix this by reducing (mitigating) our carbon footprint and carbon emissions… and so continue ‘business as usual’ and live happily ever after.

My response to this is in three sections:

  1. Anthropogenic (human-induced) warming from greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must be understood in the context of the natural carbon cycle, which until about 150 years ago was in equilibrium.
  2. The mitigation myth is that we can reduce the effects of worsening climate change by reducing anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions e.g., net-zero by 2050, or earlier.
  3. The big problem is not climate change. It is global ecological overshoot: when our ecological footprint exceeds biocapacity or sustainability. Global warming is a result. Overshoot leads to collapse and eventual extinction. The planet is now in irreversible collapse.

1. The Carbon Cycle is out of Equilibrium

Greenhouse gases (GHG) are necessary in the atmosphere to keep the planet warm at an average of 15°C surface temperature.[1] The level of natural GHGs in the atmosphere has been in equilibrium for millennia because the earth has both emitted and absorbed natural GHGs in mostly equal measure (the natural carbon cycle). This all changed with the industrial revolution, about 1750. Since then, anthropogenic or human-caused greenhouse gases have almost doubled the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, and this has been the main driver of global warming. The problem has been compounded by the destruction of carbon absorbing plants and forests.

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

Is Covid-19 providing cover for Jay Hanson’s Society of Sloth?

Is Covid-19 providing cover for Jay Hanson’s Society of Sloth?

Gail Tverberg made a comment today that rings true and motivated me to write about something I’ve been mulling for a while…

https://ourfiniteworld.com/2020/12/23/2020-the-year-things-started-going-badly-wrong/comment-page-24/#comment-274042

I think the reaction to COVID-19 is part of how a self-organizing system works. People were looking for a reason to cut back/shut down. The illness provided this.

I do not believe in most conspiracy theories, but I do believe that crises are frequently used to implement plans that would be impossible without a crisis. The responses to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, 9/11, and the 2008 GFC are good modern examples.

Perhaps the virus has provided (mostly subconscious) cover for:

  • citizens tired of commuting 2 hours a day to a stressful job so they could keep up with their neighbor’s latest unnecessary status symbol purchase
  • citizens who intuited they should reduce discretionary spending and pay down credit card debt, which interestingly declined in 2020, rather than increasing as it did during the 2008 GFC
  • leaders that sensed we should voluntarily throttle back, because we’d soon be forced by limits to growth
  • leaders that understood we needed to rapidly reduce CO2 emissions, and the only way to achieve this is by contracting the economy
  • leaders that needed an excuse to restrict freedoms to maintain civil order in preparation for a significant contraction of our energy/economic system
  • central banks that understood we had hit limits to growth and that needed an excuse for massive corporate bailouts to prevent a catastrophic economic collapse, and for MMT to keep citizens fed

Perhaps this helps to explain why our responses to the virus have not been intelligent or optimal:

  • effective means of containing the spread were ignored or procrastinated in the crucial early days

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

Irreversible Collapse: Accepting Reality, Avoiding Evil

Irreversible Collapse: Accepting Reality, Avoiding Evil

Bodhi Paul Chefurka: Carrying capacity, overshoot and sustainability

Bodhi Paul Chefurka: Carrying capacity, overshoot and sustainability

***

Ever since the writing of Thomas Malthus in the early 1800s, and especially since Paul Ehrlich’s publication of “The Population Bomb”  in 1968, there has been a lot of learned skull-scratching over what the sustainable human population of Planet Earth might “really” be over the long haul.

This question is intrinsically tied to the issue of ecological overshoot so ably described by William R. Catton Jr. in his 1980 book “Overshoot:The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change”.  How much have we already pushed our population and consumption levels above the long-term carrying capacity of the planet?

In this article I outline my current thoughts on carrying capacity and overshoot, and present five estimates for the size of a sustainable human population.

Carrying Capacity

Carrying capacity” is a well-known ecological term that has an obvious and fairly intuitive meaning: “The maximum population size of a species that the environment can sustain indefinitely, given the food, habitat, water and other necessities available in the environment.” 

Unfortunately that definition becomes more nebulous and controversial the closer you look at it, especially when we are talking about the planetary carrying capacity for human beings. Ecologists will claim that our numbers have already well surpassed the planet’s carrying capacity, while others (notably economists and politicians…) claim we are nowhere near it yet!
 
This confusion may arise because we tend to confuse two very different understandings of the phrase “carrying capacity”.  For this discussion I will call these the “subjective” view and the “objective” views of carrying capacity.

The subjective view is carrying capacity as seen by a member of the species in question. Rather than coming from a rational, analytical assessment of the overall situation, it is an experiential judgement. 

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

Questions as big as the atmosphere

Questions as big as the atmosphere

A review of After Geoengineering

After Geoengineering is published by Verso Books, Oct 1 2019.

What is the best-case scenario for solar geoengineering? For author Holly Jean Buck and the scientists she interviews, the best-case scenario is that we manage to keep global warming below catastrophic levels, and the idea of geoengineering quietly fades away.

But before that can happen, Buck explains, we will need heroic global efforts both to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions and to remove much of the excess carbon we have already loosed into the skies.

She devotes most of her new book After Geoengineering: Climate Tragedy, Repair, and Restoration to proposed methods for drawing down carbon dioxide levels from the atmosphere. Only after showing the immense difficulties in the multi-generational task of carbon drawdown does she directly discuss techniques and implications of solar geoengineering (defined here as an intentional modification of the upper atmosphere, meant to block a small percentage of sunlight from reaching the earth, thereby counteracting part of global heating).

The book is well-researched, eminently readable, and just as thought-provoking on a second reading as on the first. Unfortunately there is little examination of the way future energy supply constraints will affect either carbon drawdown or solar engineering efforts. That significant qualification aside, After Geoengineering is a superb effort to grapple with some of the biggest questions for our collective future.

Overshoot

The fossil fuel frenzy in the world’s richest countries has already put us in greenhouse gas overshoot, so some degree of global heating will continue even if, miraculously, there were an instant political and economic revolution which ended all carbon dioxide emissions tomorrow. Can we limit the resulting global heating to 1.5°C? At this late date our chances aren’t good.

As Greta Thunberg explained in her crystal clear fashion to the United Nations Climate Action Summit:

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

BOOM! Fossil Fuel Combustion and the Mother of All Economic Busts

BOOM! Fossil Fuel Combustion and the Mother of All Economic Busts

Photograph Source: Eric Kounce TexasRaiser – Public Domain

William Catton focussed on what follows a boom in the human population. He spelled out the scenario in his 1980 book, Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change. As one reviewer put it, “Catton believed that industrial civilization had sown the seeds of its own demise and that humanity’s seeming dominance of the biosphere is only a prelude to decline.”

Catton hasn’t been alone. Many others have warned or at least implied an inevitable human population bust. But that inevitability is no longer likely to hit solely from overshoot alone, and not in some far-distant future. Instead, with the added pressure from our booming combustion of fossil fuels, a human population bust could plausibly be kicked into gear sometime “by” — a.k.a. before — 2050, or within the next 30 years.

This could be the mother of all economic busts.

The human population boom has been the bedrock of economic boom in sector after sector. It’s been the bedrock foundation of a profit boom for the fossil fuel combustion industries that now put it at risk. In the US alone, the booming human population has been the wellspring for surging numbers of visitors to the likes of Yellowstone National Park, city managers bent on promoting growth, the basis of soaring demand for logging to supply housing for a growing human herd.

Booms thus enjoy considerable public approval and political popularity. Over and over again, the long-ongoing human population boom has afforded the political elites and local boosters an opportunity to boast of a booming economy, sometimes raising local and even national concerns that they tout growth at any cost.

Bust, on the other hand, is a dirty four-letter word.

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

Why is Overpopulation Ignored by the Media? The Reasons of a Historical Failure

Why is Overpopulation Ignored by the Media? The Reasons of a Historical Failure

Some people think there exists a conspiracy that prevents the media from ever mentioning the charged word, “overpopulation.” Conspiracies do exist but, in this case, my impression is that population is such a charged issue simply because it has to do with the fact that we are all humans and discussing about reducing population touches some inner mechanisms of our psyche that we feel uncomfortable about.

But there is more to that: the real problem with overpopulation is that most decision makers lack the concept of “overshoot,”  a view that didn’t exist in the study of social systems until Jay Forrester introduced it in the 1960s.If you don’t understand overshoot, at best you can understand that there are limits to population, but you can’t understand that population could exceed the limits and crash down ruinously with the deterioration of the agricultural system that feeds it.

The lack of a the concept of overshoot may well be what leads the concerned and the unconcerned to minimize the problem. Many people seem to think that the “demographic transition,” the reduction in fertility observed in most rich nations of the world, will spread over all humankind and stabilize the world’s population at a sustainable level without any need for governments to intervene to force lower birth rates.

Almost certainly, it is too late for that: we should have started decades ago. But only China implemented a serious policy birth control — for the rest of the world it was a historical failure.

In the discussion, below, Bernard Gilland discusses the problems we will face in the attempt of stabilizing the human population mainly in terms of the degradation of the agricultural system in its dependence on non-sustainable resources.
…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Analysts Warn We’re Running Out of Resources Needed to Sustain Life on Our Planet

Analysts Warn We’re Running Out of Resources Needed to Sustain Life on Our Planet

Have you ever heard of Earth Overshoot Day? No? Neither had I. It’s the day each year that we use up the resources that can be renewed within that year. This year, it was on August 1st, so for the rest of the year, we’re living on borrowed resources.

It reminds me of the economy and quantitative easing. There’s only so far we can push it until there’s nothing left from which to borrow. While the analysts say this is all related to climate change, a theory that many find dubious, one thing is absolutely certain – they’re right about the looming shortage of resources. And a lot of it is because Westerners are so incredibly wasteful as a society.

Water

Look at water, for example. Droughts have stricken us here in parts of the United States for years, and blogger Michael Snyder has suggested it could quickly lead to a return to Dustbowl conditions similar to those of the 1930s. South Africa has barely managed to push back Day Zero, the day in which Cape Town runs completely out of water, using stringent rationing methods.

Even parts of the US that aren’t in drought conditions are seeing frequent water crises, with algae blooms, toxic run-off, chemical spills, and tainted municipal water. Doesn’t it seem to you that these things are happening a lot more often?

The global water shortage is coming fast.

 At this point, approximately 40 percent of the entire population of the planet has little or no access to clean water, and it is being projected that by 2025 two-thirds of humanity will live in “water-stressed” areas.

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

Today we’ve consumed more resources than the planet can renew in a year

Today we’ve consumed more resources than the planet can renew in a year

Our economies are operating a giant planetary Ponzi scheme: borrowing far more from the Earth’s ecosystems than they can sustain. 

Photo by Jenny Tañedo

Today is Earth Overshoot Day, the date when we have taken more from nature than it can renew in an entire year. Unsustainable extraction is occurring on a planetary scale: we are using natural resources 1.7 times faster in 2018 than the Earth’s ecosystems can regenerate this year. Critically, this year is the earliest date that we have gone into ecological deficit, the only deficit that truly matters.

Earth Overshoot Day is a clear and growing signal that our economies are, in the words of the Global Footprint Network, operating a giant planetary Ponzi scheme: borrowing far more from the Earth’s ecosystems than they can sustain. But we are already having to pay the price. From deadly heat waves to mass extinctions, soil erosion to dwindling water supplies, we are entering a new era of accelerating environmental collapse.

And on current trends, this is only set to worsen. Critically, those most likely to bear the violence of climate and other environmental change will be those with least past responsibility for our current situation.

The continued reliance on carbon to power our economies means that we are highly unlikely to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, the ambition agreed at the Paris climate summit, increasing the chance of severe climate disruption and the resulting social stress. Meanwhile, the global food system has destroyed a third of all arable land and, at current rates, global top soil degradation means that there may only be 60 global harvests left. The collapse of ecosystems means we are in the age of the sixth mass extinction – the last being the dinosaurs – with nearly two-thirds of all vertebral life having died since the 1970s.

…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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