I often hear people, who appear to be otherwise rational human beings, adamantly stating that anthropogenic global warming doesn’t exist-if there is warming they argue -it has to be some other source than man; why?
Perhaps partly because they cannot comprehend that their own small actions in a big world could have such a huge impact on the planet. Which is in fact of course, correct.
It is our capacity as a social species to collaborate and cooperate which is destroying this planet. If James Watt had invented the steam engine, but no-one had helped him build the tracks, let alone design and build another-and then another locomotive; then the planet would have much more of its natural green cover on it and far less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere!
It is our capacity to firstly manipulate our environment to suit our immediate needs at the expense of other species, which has created what is looking increasingly likely as a dead-end street for ourselves and the multiple species that live with us on this little blue ball.
Secondly it is our incapacity to anticipate the cumulative impacts of our actions on the planet ( one locomotive has no impact; 100,000 locomotives do; tar-sealing one car-park has little impact on the planet, but 500, 000 mall car-parks do.) .
Thirdly, it is the inherited presumption that homo sapiens have a God-given right to hold domain over the world. A handy but incredibly foolish assumption for any species to adhere to!- particularly when that species doesn’t understand what it is doing as it manipulates its environment, other than making and distributing little shiny baubles that its members are attracted to.
And fourthly, it is our short-sightedness; we do not see how over time, humans have radically altered for the worse, the liveable bio-sphere on this planet. What was once, for instance in New Zealand, several islands almost entirely covered with tall trees and dense vegetation, has been in less than two hundred years, transformed into millions of acres of grassland feeding various animal species imported from Europe, for the purpose of slaughtering them and sending the dead bodies overseas or to extract their milk.
Many many thousands of species have been destroyed or pushed to the brink of extinction in this process of ‘human progress’, and those ancient forest trees are forever gone, except in a few national parks where humans can get a small glimpse of what the world was like before humans devastated it. No longer is the dawn chorus of birds deafening, as it once was when Europeans first arrived on those New Zealand shores 200 years ago: we may be lucky in our urban environments to hear one European blackbird or a sparrow call as the sun rises.
Deforestation across the world has been pervasive- both for agricultural farming and for industrial exploitation.
In the image below you an see the inexorable deforestation (loss of green) of Europe -only attenuated briefly by the Black Death. That process of deforestation has been occurring all over the word at various rates and stages, but is now nearing the point where only a few natural national parks will remain across the world. And while they certainly act as carbon sinks, those forested areas were (once) far more than that; they were areas of intense species diversity that vitally kept our planet alive.
We have as a species, perhaps irremediably, lost our way- and sadly all the other species on this planet may be lost too as a result.
And as Pete Dolack writes at Systemic Disorder, environmental collapse is a major challenge to the capitalistic system! How dare our world disintegrate before our eyes when we have the greatest system of profiteering the world has ever seen!
The Baltic Dry Index, which measures the price of shipping dry goods globally, has dropped to its lowest known point in the past few days at 402. Other indicators too are pointing to a rapid downturn in export shipping volumes.
On its own, the BDI low index may reflect nothing more than an oversupply of shipping , but taken with other data measures, indications are that international trade is slowing at a rapid rate globally.
If this is the case, then we are likely to see a further deterioration in commodity prices, particularly oil prices, as demand slumps, an increase in unemployment in the industrial sectors globally and an increasing shrinkage in consumer spending.
And naturally, that decrease i trade globally is simply because people are buying less! Here’s a neat little Bloomberg graph which shows the trend for retail sales in the United States.. People simply seem to be buying less ‘stuff’
Because the human world’s current survival culture is predicated on continuous growth in production of things, such a reversal will have significant implications for poverty, hopelessness and hunger in the short to medium term. It will require no less than a massive restructuring of what it means to be human on this planet, for us all to get to a state of sustainable equilibrium, and to finally recognise our equality with the other species we co-habit the world with.
On the bright side, the elimination of ‘growth’ or even a reversal in growth, will be a significant bonus to the world’s environment. The diminishing need to use more coal and gas, to mine more minerals, to build more cities, dwellings and transport networks and consume more generally, will mean less of what is left of our natural environment will become despoiled.
As the ‘Geography of Transport Systems ‘ notes succinctly, there are many factors which influence the BDI price; lowering oil prices for ships ( bunker oil), too many ships in the market and lastly and likely most significantly, lowering demand for bulk goods. OIl process are approximately 40% of the price and there certainly has been a glut in bulk tankers, but we also know bulk commodity prices ( iron ore, copper etc etc) have dropped precipitously due to much reduced demand from primarily China. But a drop of this magnitude foretells something much bigger in the wind…
And here’s the BDI at 29th January …
And even Bloomberg might be coming to a similar consensus as of 29th January…
The latest Wikileaks release outlines the secret deals being conducted by Western state on behalf of international companies under the Trans Pacific Partnership deal, to ensure those companies can engage in whatever malpractice and destruction of the environment they choose to . If those companies object to anything a local state is doing to restrict their trade or profits, that state entity can be sued in a highly partial court of law without any jurisprudence standing (ie i totally biased without safety measures against conflict of interest of the legal agents involved.
If the consequences of the TPP were not so incredibly damaging for the environment and the future of this planet-this piece of negotiation would be seen as pure farce and another mighty demonstration of the woeful lack of intelligence of the political parties and individuals involved.
A Hell of climate hothouse change and unfettered environmental and species destruction; let alone a hell for human “consumers” of unregulated and unsafe products and significantly reduced capacity to respond to public health issues like rates of tobacco consumption . But more particularly it is a madhouse.
A truly insane drive to destroy the planet with unregulated commodification before any of us get the smallest opportunity to save our species and the other remaining species on this planet that are “useful” to us, from the wholesale destruction of this planet through the insanity of “market forces” .
That supposedly sane negotiators from all those Pacific countries could seriously consider this Partnership deal as some thing worthwhile to even consider for a moment is deeply disturbing, and is a spectacularly horrifying litmus test of how irrevocably the human species has departed from any sense of connection with the planet it depends upon to survive.
The signing of the TPP will surely show that the human species really doesn’t deserve this planet.
Common Dreams identifies a further draft international treaty, the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), which will further strengthen the power of the international corporates.
All of this would make perfect sense if the only thing that mattered on this planet was making money (for the rich)….
And if any of us need a reminder, a Stanford University study, released June 19th 2015 notes what should be blindingly obvious to any one who looks around beyond their smartphone; that we have entered a massive species loss period which is likely to result in the extinction of our own species . Sawing off the limb we are sitting on, is the comment made by Paul Ehrlich , the lead researcher for the study…
T.S. Eliot’s famous poem, The Hollow Men, ends with the following lines…
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
A recent study, led by applied mathematician Safa Motesharrei of the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center and using new statistical modelling methods, predicts that this current civilization will likely collapse in another twenty to fifty years. The study draws analogies with past human civilizations; the Assyrian, Roman, Mayan, Minoan, the various Chinese empires…. We can assume that like us; the populations of those civilizations had every reason to believe their civilization was unique and would last forever. While civilisational collapse is quite rare, characterised by entire ways of life, systems of thought, cultural values and worldviews disappearing, political collapse occurs frequently ( eg empires and kingdoms disintegrating). What appears likely to happen in our modern context, given the confluence of a number of catastrophic events, is civilisational collapse.
While this particular study has been sharply critiqued by journalists and scientists alike for its simplicity and generalisations ; the broad conclusion that, as Paul Simon aptly put it ,”everything put together falls apart” , is a healthy reminder of human hubris.
The single most important story unfolding in not-so-slow-motion on this planet is the ongoing destruction of the natural world in the name of “progress” and “growth” (ie consuming ever more “stuff”) by humans; , which will in the near future, significantly negatively impact on this species. Despite our insistence to the contrary, humans are entirely reliant on other species for our survival. It is a given that is blindly ignored by politicians, businesspeople and businesses and all those with a current stake in the way our “civilization’ currently works ( ie all of us).
As key resources become more expensive to extract, the world economy (which is apparently now the full extent of this ‘civilization’) begins to contract and distort . And as the gap between rich and poor widens, the “have-nots” increasingly demand in more and more violent ways, their right to a slice of the pie. As the oceans and atmospheric temperatures rise, so do the pressures on our artificial nation-states. As we progressively and rapidly eliminate species after species to produce more things, to make “progress”; our chances of long term survival as a species are being rapidly reduced. Our civilization demands that we assume that we have an infinite volume of resources to consume for the infinite future in a closed planetary system – a small contradiction in terms! We are indeed heading for the perfect storm.
Study after academic study shows that the more we gain from a civilization’s prosperity, the more we are blind to its failings and contradictions and its inevitable fall. This tunnel vision says , that ‘if I am doing well out of this catastrophe then it cant be a catastrophe at all!’
Homo sapiens pride themselves on their remarkable intelligence; their capacity to manipulate their environment for their own ends. They appear unable to grasp that that self-definition process of appropriating everything good, intelligent and wonderful to human attributes, is simply the result of their blinded vision. If by definition, species that manipulate their environment are determined to be superior to all other species; then lo-and-behold!- homo sapiens are superior beings! Because homo sapiens are above all other traits, social beings, all of us have an intensely strong need to “fit in”, to belong to the group. Agreeing with other people on ‘our’ group’s thought processes and paradigms is an essential part of this togetherness. However, agreement does not it make it truth.
Thus, it does not matter that the capacity to manipulate the environment for the benefit of our species and at the expense of all other species on this planet might not be quite such an intelligent thing to do, given that the environmental devastation and species destruction is largely for homo sapiens’ short term pleasures, power and baubles.
Were we to say that a species that can sustain itself easily and efficiently without damaging its environment in the process, were more ‘worthy’ beings than other species ; then homo sapiens would not be registering on the short-list!
Over the millenia, homo sapiens have been able to convince themselves that people of other cultures, or colour, or background are inferior to one’s own culture because of this self-defining process. Using the same intellectual process, the more different another species is from ourselves, the less worthy , less intelligent, more expendable and worthy of our exploitation and destruction that species becomes. The more differentiated from our species the “other” is, the easier it is to dismiss its inherent traits and qualities and its right to life. However on our ever smaller blue planet, we no longer have the luxury to differentiate between “them’ and ‘us”.
How much easier then is it to dismiss the equality of other species with ourselves when their characteristics, strengths and skills are so different from homo sapiens, and when it is so much to our benefit to be able to kill and exploit other species without moral qualms.
As Henry Gee also points out succinctly in his Guardian article , each species’ particular traits or “strengths” are based purely on, firstly, what biological mechanisms of sense are available to them ,and secondly, how they use those senses to that species’ best advantage. Homo sapiens may not value our sense of smell because its not a particularly efficient sensing mechanism in homo sapiens, but you can bet a dog does!
The capacity for self-delusion in our species is immense. Witness the largely American driven anti- climate -change camp. Of course we cannot be destroying our planet with C02 through industrialization, because capitalism and owning the means of production is the reason for our being! – after all, aren’t we, the US consumer, the greatest people on earth because our nation is the epitome of capitalism?
As another example of collective self-deception, Seth Klarman, the manager of the $27billion hedge fund, the Baupost Group, recently remarked on the similarities of the world’s banking system to the ‘Truman Show’, the late nineties Hollywood film, where the lead character “lives a seemingly charmed world, snuggled comfortably into an American suburbia of white picket fences and crisply cut lawns. But gradually Truman starts to notice something is not quite right. He is actually trapped inside a film set controlled by hidden directors, and discovers to his horror that he is the unknowing star of the world’s most popular reality TV show.” In one of the more blatant nuances of reality shifting homo sapiens have acquiesced to, our financial system is in essence simply one of “smoke and mirrors” -the manipulation of facts and figures designed to obscure reason and reality; a fragile house of cards.
One key point of difference with previous human civilizations around the world is that our current civilization is a global one; each of the parts are inextricably connected. Apart from a few small tribes in isolated areas, every one of us has bought in to this unique method of environmental destruction. Thus when this civilization collapses -(and it is a “when” and not an “if” ), that collapse will be both more rapid and more global; there will not be another model of homo sapien civilization around for the survivors to pin their hopes on. The other significant difference with other previous human civilizations is this current one’s geographical reach. Vast areas of the planet have now been laid waste in the name of human progress.
So, while the modelling conducted by Safa Motesharrei may be flawed, it does provide an opportunity for serious debate about the direction this global civilisation of ours is taking us..