Posts Tagged ‘Anthropocene’

How many people might die from climate change?

June 2, 2017

Sorry that is the sort of question which cannot be answered accurately.

Social systems, environmental systems and climate systems are complex systems which means they cannot be predicted in detail. All these systems will be interacting with different forms of landscape – such as low lying areas, loss of glaciers and water and so on. We need all of them to remain stable to make valid detailed predictions. All we can predict is the general trends, and these can be disrupted by rapid changes of state into new systems which may not be human friendly.

The trends are likely to be extreme. People will try and move from parts of the earth which become difficult to live in, because of temperature (heat stroke, heart failure, dehydration), lack of drinking water and sea level rise, and that will likely cause wars – in which people will die as well. The massive storms we have seen will cause deaths as well, as well as disrupt the balance and interconnection of social functioning which will produce more deaths. Destruction of agricultural stability will produce problems with food supply, which is likely to produce malnutrition, which makes people more vulnerable to the other effects. Tropical diseases will move into what have been temperate climates, as well as be carried by people movement. It is likely that those of us who live in temperate environments will have little resistance to these diseases. We may see some parts of the world which have previously been uninhabitable become open to human life and the great powers will compete over those areas, which is also likely to produce war and death.

We also keep polluting the oceans which will disrupt the climate and ecological systems. Many biologists think that ocean death is possible, this will mean we will lose most of our fish stocks, we may also lose oxygen supplies if the plankton die and we keep cutting down forests, although it is unlikely we will kill ourselves, this will also lessen resilience.

With pro-corporate policies which help corporations release chemicals pollution without much in the way of check we will also poison ourselves and the other creatures and plants we need to live. The results of these chemicals on bio-system evolution cannot be predicted at all…

Basically there are a whole heap of endangering ecological processes going on, of which climate change is only one. What the results of multiple chaotic disruptions will be is absolutely unpredictable. However, it can be predicted that normality is going and that many people will die as a result.


April 8, 2017

I’ve been in Queensland and have just finished reading the last week of the Murdoch owned Courier mail – which may well be the only local daily newspaper for the whole state. Lots of stuff on the massive cyclone, the devastation and the spirit of Queenslanders.

Hardly any mention of climate change. Except to denounce the Greens for exploiting the tragedy for political gain and for dissing Queenslanders, and quoting Bill Shorten, leader of the Labor party, agreeing that the Greens were indeed terrible. So much for the ‘obstructionism’ of the mainstream left.

However, there was Lots and Lots of stuff about how wonderful the Adani mine is going to be for jobs and development, and suggesting that any opposition is from privileged city folk and racists…. They also spent many column inches denouncing a small Melbourne Council who was going to remove its funds from Westpac, because that bank was funding the Adani mine. Most of the denouncing focused on how small this council was. Yes even what they perceive as the smallest dissent, really upsets the Righteous.

They did cheer for the Queensland Labor government allocating Adani unlimited water access and use, at the cost of farmers and rivers all the way down to South Australia. Only recently 87% of Queensland was declared drought affected, but that must not stand in the way of…. whatever this mine is doing. Some Federal Minister said if this mine can’t go ahead then no mines anywhere in Australia will be successful. There is nobody living out there…. News to the local aboriginal people I would suspect and, as usual, devoid of any sense that local events can produce wide range catastrophe. Coal mining does produce poisons and threaten the common water table for the whole state. Coal is burnt and the atmosphere is shared, whatever he might want to the contrary.

There is a kind of total weirdness going on here. A real threat to ‘colonial civilisation’ in Australia is being deliberately shunted to one side, in favour of extremely dubious short term benefits, which will probably not be delivered.

We sell our coal, and get nothing for it, except a dead barrier reef, dispossessed locals, poisoned water, and less than 2,000 jobs. Royalties and taxes will be unlikely to be paid to cover the costs or even repay the loans from the government – Adani’s tax arrangements are legendarily complex. The profit does not even go to a local company, or even a reputable company. We do not help relieve poverty in India, because there is no grid in the poor areas (people cannot afford it).

There seems to be a madness infesting the right, a possession by an ideological machine, which blinds, deafens, numbs and rips out the smell centres of its possessed, and clatters on without any direction other than destruction. Nothing must stop it. It chants away that resistance is useless.

It would be nice to think not, but what is the alternative?

Is ‘sustainability’ impossible?

March 27, 2017

1) Human social systems and ecological systems are complex systems.

2) Complex systems are surprising and cannot be predicted in detail, especially over time, only by trend.

3) This means that the systems vary considerably over time. They are not always stable. Quite small actions, accidents or external events can affect the system significantly.

4) The ‘excess’ produced normally in a complex system is part of its resilience to accidents and internal or external variation.

5) If that excess is removed, then the system may become less resilient. There may be times when the excess is needed to make up a ‘natural’ loss of certain participants.

6) We tend to think of systems as sustainable with a fixed excess which can be removed for us to use.

7) Removing this excess in a fixed form renders the system less resilient and more prone to crash. If people keep extracting the same amounts without observing the system, then the system can be completely destroyed.

8) Maintaining ‘sustainability’ of this type, varies from impossible to extremely difficult.

Diagnosing Trump

March 19, 2017

Another Vital Post from John Woodcock. This time on the pointlessness of diagnosing Trump. Basically John’s argument is that diagnosing Trump “generate[s] a sense of knowing who Trump is and what he is likely to do on the basis of his ‘clinical profile’. This sense of knowing who Trump is, psychologically or clinically, thus gives us a dangerously false sense of getting a handle on what is going on right now.”

Diagnosis is therefore dangerous. We need to see with “fresh eyes”

So some continuation of this idea.

The circumstances of the world are unique and are not reflected in past history. We cannot predict the consequences of events, or actions, at all. It is also true that the world is a set of complex systems and is inherently unpredictable.

What makes the situation different, is that we have never faced this confluence of crises. They are crises which provoke existential crisis in us, and may possibly end ways of life as we know them quite catastrophically. We, as humanity, face being completely uprooted.

Despite the impossibility of predicting exactly what will happen, there is always the possibility of predicting trends. Trump is, I think, ‘trendable’. However, it must be remembered that Trump is not alone he has a whole group of people reinforcing his tendencies, supporting his acts, fearing him, and feeding him the “right” information. That is what makes him particularly dangerous

So far I’ve found Trump and his collective relatively predictable going by his past history, but the intersection of that past history with current events is hard to fathom, and will possibly get harder to fathom as it goes along. Of course Trump and others may become more monstrous as he proceeds and fails.

Trump supports established big business and attacks ordinary Americans. He aims to remove anything that hinders the power of business to destroy, or increase the wealth they remove from the system. He supports anything that will increase his own wealth, and seems happy to make money out of the Presidency (as with Mar-a-lago). His is a government of billionaire crooks for billionaire crooks. .

He also wants to be seen as tough and a ‘strong man’. He wants his own way in everything public. This is vital, and feeds into the billionaire thug routine. He resents those who think they know better than him, or say he cannot do something. He will seek scapegoats for his failures and seek revenge on those scapegoats.

He will probably start a war, or series of wars, as his policies break down, so as to maintain the illusion of strength. It is no surprise he makes increasing military spending (which also transfers taxpayers’ money to the corporate sector) a priority, despite the fact that the US already spends more on the military than the ten to twelve next highest spending countries put together. Nuclear war is a possibility – he has already suggested it to solve the problems of the Middle East. Who it is, that he will declare war upon is much harder to decide.

He will do nothing to stop ecological breakdown, indeed he will be more likely to speed it up as that shows his power and marks the Earth permanently with his name.

Trump and his cronies (it is not Trump alone) push us further into the crisis, and it is up to us to resist while knowing our resistance will encourage him to go further.

That is the first paradox.

We need “fresh eyes” to see this.

There is another paradox. Trump is not a reforming radical as he, and his supporters claim, he is the same old Republican fraud. However, he does not have the same constraints of past Republicans.

So we cannot hold the possibilities within constraints. The crises ridden system would probably not allow this anyway. We cannot rely on our past assumptions about US governments. We might have been able to assume that while Reagan would risk nuclear war, his government would behave “reasonably” in other ways. With Trump’s government we have no assurances.

We need fresh eyes to see, that do not block our perceptions of trends in ‘heroic’ specialness, and do not suppress paradox.

Mssrs.Trump and Putin

February 5, 2017

Mr. Trump has just said, in an interview on Fox, that the US is as murderous as Russia and we should not criticise Russia as a result. While possibly true (although US Presidents don’t usually have their opposition killed), this is probably a preview of how his administration will behave.

I keep reading right wing support for Trump’s happy affair with Mr. Putin. We probably all know that if Hillary Clinton or other Democrat or Labor politician was probably helped by continuous Russian propaganda and lies, had close financial ties with Russian Oligarchs, would benefit from relaxing sanctions against Russia, and was considered a favourite of Putin, that the Republicans and their apologists would be howling for blood.

They would be pointing out that Putin is a dictator with no regard for free speech, free markets or democratic process. They would remark that he is an aggressor in a number of places in the world and seems determined to expand Russian ‘influence’ in eastern Europe and the middle east to the detriment of Western interests. They would not be saying, ‘this is normal great power behaviour and ok’.

They would be pointing out that Putin would not support anyone who he really thought could make America great again. They might say that his support should be seen as condemnation. But its a Republican and the Righteous who benefit, so all is wonderful, and objection is just political bias.

Let us be clear, a balanced and easier relationship with Russia would be great and possibly of huge benefit. But Trump seems determined to have this peace at any cost, while having war with China, which is not so great.

Why Is China such a problem for him and Russia such a non-problem? Basically, they are very similar, except the Chinese don’t have quite so many forces introduced into other countries recently.

The only real difference I can see, is that the Chinese believe in Global Warming and doing a little about it. Putin either does not, or does not care.

This seems to be the real commonality between the Righteous and Putin. Chinese people can object to pollution in China – a right which seems to be being removed in the USA, and in some places here.

So really what we are seeing is an alliance of happy polluters and poisoners.

Trump and coal

December 19, 2016

I keep reading that Trump cannot restore the place of coal in the US economy. At the risk of repeating myself, he can.

Trump can save the coal industry for a number of years, all he has to do is pump taxpayer’s money into coal subsidies to make it cheap, and into coal power stations to make them cheap. That way he gets coal up and running, and people locked into providing coal for the years they need it to supply the power stations he helped build. He can also subsidise coal power in the third world and tie that to the US export market to help local coal production. Its expensive, but he is rebuilding America in the only way he knows how, tax cuts to the wealthy and corporate sector and subsidies for the wealthy and the corporate sector. (Trump has already apparently explained his cabinet of billionaires by saying such people are successful and therefore have all the skills and virtues necessary to govern and do good things. Rich people are, in his ideology, good people – by implication poorer people are not – they cannot expect help.)

He can work towards crippling renewables simply by making regulations affecting the industry difficult in the extreme, or charging a tax on renewables to ‘recompense’ people who are not on renewables. He can ban wind farms from being anywhere near where there are birds or people, increasing their cost of transmission. He can rule that people using renewable energy must pay a large charge to established energy companies to connect to the grid and keep it viable, and so on. These actions would make coal more competitive and boosts its chance of overtaking renewables in the US.

He can take money away from climate science and give it to climate denialists, or to corporate think tanks, to create even more of an atmosphere in which business can just continue on its way. He can revoke all objections to the Keystone pipe line, as he has money invested in it.

The congress might object to the expenditure, but they will probably pass it as too many of them are beholden to fossil fuel companies.

He can encourage countries like Australia to keep up coal exports, opening new coal mines and new ‘clean’ power stations. This will then probably encourage India to keep up its determination to burn coal as a matter of ‘justice’. This will probably encourage more subsidy of coal power in other countries by other countries.

Don’t underestimate what he can do.

‘Human Greed’ and the Anthropocene

December 16, 2016

We often see human greed, blamed for ecological destruction, and even the Anthropocene itself. However this is not the case. “Human greed” is not the problem. Most humans, even today, are not generating emissions, pollution and ecological problems at a suicidal rate and they are not craving the ‘untapped resources’ of the Amazon, the Indonesia rain forests, the Liverpool plains in Australia, or the poles. Most humans do not like it when their ecologies change, and frequently protest against it, as they are not the direct cause of that change. Do any of the local residents near me, for example, relish the idea of having unfiltered pollution stacks, near their homes, for the tunnels to take a highway which is to push 75,000 extra cars per day over an already blocked bridge? No, it is not their greed that is responsible. It is not the billions of Indian villager’s greed, or even the greed of the average inhabitant of Delhi, which makes the air unbreathable. The inhabitants of Tuvalu or Kiribati have not contributed to the climate change which will destroy their homes. Most people  on the planet generate small amounts of emissions.

It is a relatively few humans, acting within particular social arrangements, that cause the problem.

Gareth Bryant argues that 71% of contemporary greenhouse gas emitters in Europe are responsible for only 4% of European emissions, while 9% of emitters are responsible for 83% of those emissions. According to Richard Heede, just 90 organisations have been responsible for two thirds of greenhouse gas emissions between 1854 and 2010.

Half of these emissions have occurred since 1986 after the triumph of neoliberal corporate dominance, when people became aware of climate change, and when particular corporations began sponsoring climate change denialism for what seemed like their own political and economic advantage. They had to engineer the state we are in. It was not natural.

Realising that the cause  of our climate problems is not just ‘human greed’, but the greed and activity of particular humans, in particular social organisations, changes the possibilities for ending the problem. If the problem is human greed then there is no chance, or we must get rid of humans. If it is particular people in particular social organisations, then yes it is possible. It  is just politics, persuasion, risk and effort. It is standing up to power. It is not easy, but it is doable.



How to talk to President Trump about climate change.

November 27, 2016

A set of hypotheses. There is also the “don’t let him do anything approach” which has its logics…. however this is more based in the idea of talking to people….

1) Do not make climate change a challenge of the form “you cannot do this”. This is not about victory over others. If you do this, he will try to ‘win’ to prove you wrong. Thus if you say “coal is doomed”, or “coal cannot be rescued” he will be obliged to prove you wrong, and it is easy for him to do so.

Any industry can be saved for 4 or 5 years if you are prepared to throw enough tax payers’ money at it, and/or cripple the business opposition by regulations and taxes.

Corollary a:  do not say “renewables cannot be stopped” – yes they can – they could be declared illegal, or made impossible to establish.

Corollary b: Telling him the “science says” seems to set up a situation in which he knows best and will prove it.

Corollary c: it might be better to argue President Trump is running away from climate change, because tackling it is too difficult for him.

2) Not losing money is important – this is how human psychology works, loss seems bigger than gain. Perhaps if the Keystone pipeline is to be closed then investors (such as the president) should be compensated? It could be cheaper than spending endless amounts of money to prove coal is viable.

3) Without engaging in triumphalism, we could keep pointing out that there is lots of money to be made in investing in renewables all over the world.

On the other hand, climate change could result in massive economic losses if we don’t act. Talk to the insurance industry who are losing the continuity of events that allows them to issue insurance and profit.

We could even argue that government regulation of trade is bad, get rid of both fossil fuel subsidies and renewable subsidies.

4) Climate change and the extreme weather it brings, threatens the social order. Sure not much has happened (to wealthy people) so far, but the long term prospects are not good. Revolution, loss of position, loss of wealth, buildings could fall, costs of fixing damage etc. are all things to be dealt with.

5) Be prepared to yield. If the president ‘needs’ to loose windfarms near his golf courses, then it may not be helpful to set up a situation in which he tries to obliterate all wind farms in revenge.

6) Trump positions can change with remarkable rapidity. A few years ago, Vladimir Putin was almost universally agreed to be evil. A few flattering words about Mr Trump and he seems to have become the hero and darling of the alt.right (as you can soon see, if you look). Who would have guessed, that a State which has been an enemy of the US for over 100 years, could be rehabilitated so easily, even when it still appears to be threatening US interests?

Could the same happen with climate change? Could President Trump be flattered into action?

7) It may be useful to suggest that President Trump is smart enough to work out the realities, or not, of climate change if he talks to real climate scientists, and does not allow his advisors to prevent him from doing this.

8) Ultimately you may need to stand firm, fight and win, but going into such a posture at first may not be helpful, and may set up more polarisation, which will delay things as Trump supporters will be bound to try and prove themselves right.

9) Don’t expect the media to do anything for you, such as convey useful information and criticism. They didn’t during the campaign, they won’t now.

Anyway, just some suggestions.

Corporate society and the Toynbee Cycle

November 24, 2016

[this is an elaboration of some of my comments on the previous article on the Age of the Anthropocene blog]

When I was arguing that Trump may well seek to ‘over-rule’ apparent economic realities and help produce climate disaster, I was guided by a theory which I call the ‘Toynbee Cycle’ after the historian Arnold Toynbee. The basic proposition is that Civilisations or societies, if they are to succeed and survive, adapt to their environment which includes ecology and other societies. Societies always face challenges which the society either overcomes, adapts to, or fails.

A failure can be a learning experience and produce better adaptation later on. This learning often involves a change in the people in power and/or the ideologies they embrace.

However, sometimes these challenges arise out of the very factors that have helped to generate the societies success.

A common example could be an extreme military proficiency that has expanded until the point where the costs, financial and social, of maintaining that success and dominance depletes the society of resources and the capacity to respond to challenges; in particular the capacity to respond to new non-military kinds of challenges. Similarly, problems arise when a group of people has been able to commandeer the cosmologies, economics, technologies etc. of a society and they restrict membership and do not allow newcomers. Such a group is likely to resist innovation and change, even if it kills them, because they have no competence or experience in such. Letting in new classes/groups of people, provided they appear talented or qualified is always a good strategy to get new ideas. Restricting entry to kin and existing group members is usually harmful. [for those who like this kind of thing, this latter point comes from Pareto’s cycle of elites]

Toynbee’s oft repeated point is that previously successful societies, do not fail so much as commit suicide. This suicide is usually promoted by the dominant groups not wanting to risk loss of dominance, or not being able to see the world in terms other than those of the tools (conceptual and technological) they use.

In my terms, the order the rulers seek creates the very disorder they fear. Reality does not work the way they want it to, or they demand that it does.

The standard ways of dealing with challenges, which seem likely to ensure social collapse, are:

To try and impose the required order more rigorously.
To pretend that the signs of disorder are illusionary.
To pretend to be solving the problem, usually with a knowing wink.
To attack those who might be trying to solve the problems.
To stir up a distraction and get people’s attention focused elsewhere, or
To locate a scapegoat to blame for the problems and argue everything will be well when that scapegoat is purged.

We largely seem to have a corporately dominated society; its cosmologies, forms of organisation and economic power seem to be embraced everywhere. It has relatively tight control, and factions of our current society, which support that order, appear to be dedicated to all of the techniques named above:

The economy is not working – so let us have more ‘free markets’, more power to the corporate sector, more wealth for the wealthy. Trump has promised to encourage more fossil fuels as they have worked in the past, and are (incidentally)generated by wealthy people and organisations.

People pretend that the climate change generated by society’s economy and success is not a problem, is not happening, is some kind of conspiracy, or is beyond human remediation.

Many government seem to want to embrace a ‘solution’ to climate change which supports coal burning. Not just new mines, but ‘clean coal’ and fracking for cheap ‘clean’ gas despite the leaks.

Groups attack and smear scientists, greens and anti-coal protestors who recognise some of the problems.

Official media, tends to distract us by focusing on the lives of celebrities, on murders, imaginary worlds and so on.

Groups can actively blame refugees, illegal immigrants, and ‘liberals/greenies’ for everything.

All of these are attempts to keep the disordering order functional, and remove challenges to it, and challenges to the behaviour of its supporters from consideration

This kind of situation encourages what I call the ‘mess of information’, because the dominant cultural trend is an attempt to avoid reality. The mess of information supports bad politics which reinforces the problems. I may write about that mess later., but this is long enough for today…

Leaving Earth

November 20, 2016

Stephen Hawking has said we are destroying earth and need to leave. This is a real recognition of the Anthropocene. However:

1) It will cost a huge amount to find an inhabitable planet and get there and set up a colony. This is money which could be spent fixing the problems we have here – such as winding back coal burning and other forms of pollution, developing an asteroid defense programme, or getting rid of nuclear weapons.

2) We will probably never be able to transport a couple of billion people off this planet – so the process of leaving involves deciding who will survive, and enforcing that decision. Which elite will survive? Probably the elite that have stuffed the planet in the first place. Who will be left to die? Probably you.

3) As the saying has it: “Wherever you go, there you are”. If we don’t fix up our social systems, the tendency to favour the powerful who are benefitting from the emissions which cause climate change, alter our tendency to say it is everyone else’s fault, or that there is no problem in what is comfortable to us, then some humans will simply all die off in some distant place.

4) If we plan to leave, then our destruction of the earth will accelerate, because if it is going to get destroyed anyway, what is the point in leaving it intact? This will increase the emergency, and probably decrease the chance of making it into space successfully. It will probably mean even more people die earlier than they would have.