Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Coming Soon: A New Beginning

By Jay -- Ottawa

Don’t look out the window, whatever you do.  That guy parading up and down our wide blogger sidewalk every Monday morning – well, he’s back.  You know, the would-be prophet wearing boards saying in front, “The End Is Near” and in back, “It’s Global Warming, Stupid.”  I think his name is Hedges.  Never lets up, does he.  Cormac McCarthy can’t hold a candle to him. 

As youngsters we joked about the kid who didn’t quite catch the number mentioned by the science teacher on how much longer the sun would last.   

“Excuse me, teacher.   Did you say one billion years or one million years?"

“One billion years.” 

“Whew.  You had me worried there for a minute.” 

The proximity of global catastrophes was moved up when scientists got to examining the mega-volcanic eruption known as the Toba Event, about 70 thousand years ago.  Toba was followed by a volcanic winter, a decade long, which, it is theorized, coincided with a dramatic “genetic bottleneck” of flora and fauna.  World-wide, only around 10,000 mating pairs of humans survived, which may explain the dramatic pinch off of human genes that occurred following Toba’s fallout.

Supervolcano.... Lake Toba

“If you were the only girllllllll in the world,

and I were the only boooooyyyyyyyyyyyyy ….”  

Back then people paid attention when that tune came over the radio. 

Now we’re going in the opposite direction and pretty fast as geologists mark time.  If you think we live in interesting times now, wait until 2100.  Various studies tell us the temperature, if it keeps warming at current rates, will rise by 4 degrees C.  Not too bad, the difference between Ottawa and Washington on a summer day, but enough, as it slides up over a few decades to 4 degrees C every day, enough to turn the globe into a hell of sick and frantic beggars.  Adapt or die.  Nasty fights over food and water in all the ways Hollywood can imagine.  Enough to throw the world’s social systems into convulsions well before 2100.  Diplomacy, treaties, international borders, doctors, police and firefighters bye-bye. 

What can little people do besides reaching for the aspirin bottle, sackcloth and ashes?  The elites and their politicians, who might force effective change, ignore the scientists as much as they ignore us.  Establishing self-sufficient agricultural havens tucked away in the hills will be as laughable as squeezing your eyes shut, which happens to be the official policy that’s most appealing. 

Well, while we can, let’s all try to get along.  Read Genesis about the Noah thing; it all worked out.  Consider Tao, Buddhism.  Read the Sufis, the Desert Fathers.  Don’t panic; meditate.  Breathe in … breathe out.  Our tepid measures against global warming just may do the trick.  Maybe another Toba will blow its top and cool things down for us just in time.   

However, if the catastrophe comes about as predicted, no matter what we do or don’t do between now and 2100, there’s always the ideal worst-case scenario to be thankful for.  I mean the realization of the secret wish we all wish sometimes.  That the clutter of our warped and rotten and broken systems be swept aside forever to make way for the noble savages who will emerge from the next genetic bottleneck.  All things new all over again. 

Always best to end on an upbeat note.   

Have a nice day.  Don’t wait too long to start on your Christmas shopping.  And did you see this week’s “New Yorker,” a special issue devoted to food?


The Doktor said...

Cool! I hadn't heard of the Toba event before... being like the kid staring out the window I thought you said Toga... I shall now have to sober up and do some research!

James F Traynor said...

The trouble with climate change is that the models are attempts to foretell what will happen in that black box, the environment. Everyone is worried about an end change of 2 to 6 degrees . I'm worried about what will happen on the way there. And we're definitely on the way. It's the nickel and dime stuff that can kill you. A drought here, a flood there and before you know it we've had a set of serial disasters - a major catastrophe in slow motion.

That black box is a complicated bit of work and we really don't know that much about the geochemical and biological interactions that can get seriously mucked up on the way to those magical end degrees in 2100. They're learning and it's beginning to scare the shit out of me. Lots and lots of things can go terribly wrong on the way to Oz.

Denis Neville said...

Jay said…“Maybe another Toba will blow its top and cool things down for us just in time.”

Maybe not. It might just speed things up.

“Substantial data from the Permian-Triassic boundary has been found to synch well with the clathrate gun hypothesis, and now it is the foremost explanation for the cause of the Permian-Triassic mass extinction.”

“The clathrate gun hypothesis begins with some external trigger, like the creation of a large igneous province or initial warming caused by sulfides released in a supervolcano eruption.”

“The ‘gun’ part of the clathrate gun hypothesis refers to both the fact that once it gets going, it can't be stopped, and its lethal effects. Once the planet starts warming, circulation in the oceans would decrease, causing large areas of ocean to turn anoxic, killing off life in huge numbers.”

“I am convinced, both by faith and experience, that to maintain one's self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime, if we live simply and wisely.” - Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Unfortunately, as Thoreau also said, “Men have become the tools of their tools.”

Zee said...

Jay said…“Maybe another Toba will blow its top and cool things down for us just in time.”

Denis said..."Maybe not. It might just speed things up."

Maybe the earth will be struck by an asteroid or comet tomorrow.

Or not.

What, me worry?

Valerie said...

Thanks for the Hedges link, Jay. He is always an amazing read - but depressing in his clear grasp of the issues and of the American public.

I find it discouraging that even if one doesn't accept that climate change is real or that it is caused by pollution, that a person can't recognise that pollution is bad in general for the planet. People who live in places where there is too much pollution get sick. As do the animals that drink the water and eat the grass or smaller animals living in a polluted environment. We don’t want our food sourced from polluted places, do we? So why can’t we agree that pollution is a serious health hazard in addition to a contributor to global warming and that we should want to stop it for that reason?
And why not agree that oil is a finite product and we find it mostly in countries where the governments are corrupt and hostile to the U.S? We can't get the oil without getting into bed with some BAD people. Even if a person refuses to recognize that fossil fuels are causing pollution, can't we agree that it would be wise to start developing different sources of energy so that we are free of hostile governments? Don’t we want to be able to run our country and our infrastructure when the oil runs out? Doesn't it make economic sense for the U.S. to be at the forefront of Green Energy?

I grow weary of people, too lazy to think for themselves, getting their news and their opinions from biased sources like Fox or the MSM in general. When I was growing up, it was the sign of an intelligent person to know both sides of the story and to have weighed the merits of each. Now people hear it from a certain source, Fox or the New York Times, and assume it must be true. I know it sounds melodramatic but a citizenry that is so easily manipulated or apathetic is ripe for dictatorship.

Zee said...


I suspect that even climate change deniers don't want their children breathing toxic air, drinking poisoned water, or consuming contaminated food.

Yes, we need to try to wean ourselves from fossil fuels. I would like nothing better than for governments in the Middle East and South America to wake up one day and realize that their former “golden goose” is now useful only to make plastic.

And yes, America, the technological leader in so many fields, should be the leader in the development of green energy technologies.

The question is: “How do we get there without making life so miserable that it almost seems to be not worth living any more during the transition? What's the plan?”

Consider first the gasoline-powered, personal automobile, that Spawn of Satan.

The Obama administration's plan is to let the price of oil rise without any plan to increase domestic production or develop alternative fuels, and maybe even hike taxes on gasoline to boot, with not a whit of concern for the lower- and middle-classes, for whom personal vehicles are a real necessity.

I can't speak for the rest of the world, but I think that I can speak for many Americans—and certainly most western-staters—when I say that we are joined at the hip to our vehicles owing to the way this country has developed. We are the land of wide, open spaces, rural living, negligible mass transit, where the family car is both a necessity and a symbol of freedom. We'll keep driving no matter what the cost, because we have to.

Even in the major urban centers, when gas prices soared to new heights this past year, Joe and Joan Sixpack kept on shelling out the dough because they needed to get to work, or to buy necessities like food, and public transit wasn't up to the job.

What they didn't do is take the Sixpack family to the beach, or the mountains, or a lake, or to a National Park to escape the heat and crowding of the city. That's when the word “stay-cation” was invented. “Sorry kids, no opportunity to briefly enjoy the pleasures of nature this year, because Mommy and Daddy need gas. Have fun playing in the streets, or you can play video games all you want here at home.” Some life.

Though a bit lower now, the price of gasoline continues to work a significant hardship on the overworked and underpaid middle-class by destroying more and more recreational, soul-restoring opportunities away from work and city. But drive to work and to the store and to the doctor they must, which means they still need something cheap (and less polluting) to put in their gas tanks.

But if Obama and Stephen Chu have their way and we do pile taxes onto the price of gasoline, what will we do with those revenues beyond simply making life even more more miserable than it already is for the lower- and middle-class in the short- to medium- term? Spend them on wasteful, “green,” mass-transit boondoggles like California's “train to nowhere?”

Or on yet more subsidies to bogus,bankrupt, “green energy” startups like Solyndra, A123, Abound Solar, Beacon Power, Ener1, Fisker Automotive and Nevada Geothermal Power? As David Cay Johnston said in Free Lunch,

“If it is a sound investment, the market will make it. If the investment is unsound, why should taxpayers be forced to subsidize it?”

The only “green energy” programs that the government should be subsidizing are research grants to universities, and to national laboratories such as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. If the technology that they develop is economical, the market will pick up on it in a flash. If not, we're out minimal dough; graduate students are cheap and the grants help pay for their education.

So, what's the plan?