Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Ungentle Ministrations

Last weekend winter still clung to the northwest corner of High Point State Park, where the Appalachian Trail veers recklessly into the famously toxic wasteland that is New Jersey.  It's a long trip from Wit's End, but I enjoyed it, because I can avoid traffic almost the entire journey taking isolated back country roads.  A favorite distraction in these days of pre-ecopocalyptic dread, for me, is trespassing on abandoned farms, and in this rural area there is no lack of them.  It serves no purpose to archive their deterioration in photographs, but it's satisfying nonetheless.
Besides, the faded dignity and noble dilapidation of decrepit farmsteads is a perfect metaphor for the concurrent decay of trees.  Overgrown paddocks and pastures that once held lambs and pigs, horses and cows, the crumbling coops with empty nest boxes, rusty equipment, weedy hayfields and sagging, beaten orchards...all pay mute testimony to generations of families whose labor and way of life were rendered irrelevant by the hideous efficiency of mechanized agriculture - and that is so accurately reflected in the surrounding woods, quietly dying from the industrial emissions that cause air pollution.
This bright yellow Victorian however is still in excellent repair - it has been converted into a nursing home for the elderly, one of the few growth markets in our declining empire.
The trees are not faring so well though, and will not be shading the building this summer.  The pines are thin and some are completely bare - while the magnificent beech stands broken, an immense, hollowed out, rotten shell whose crown once dwarfed the building, whose branches filled all that blue sky and more.
“Mother nature always comes to the rescue of a society stricken with the problems of overpopulation, and her ministrations are never gentle.”

~ Alfred W. Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900 – 1900, Cambridge University Press, 1986, p. 92.

I saw that quote while re-reading a rather brilliant and prescient article by Adam Sacks from 2009, The Fallacy of Climate Activism.  In that essay and his subsequent discussion, The Natural Laws of Collapse, he writes with passionate clarity about our intractable and insolvable ecological dilemmas, mentioning only in a footnote the prospect that CO2 can be sequestered by rotational grazing.  Sadly, by the time he wrote The Fight Against Global Warming; a Failure and a Fix just this past January, he had forgotten all about his justifiable impatience with climate activists who are obsessed with CO2, and appears to have found Jesus in the form of desert restoration.  I know, right?  It's really sad to see someone lose their nerve and turn from an admirably unsentimental realism to embrace some fantastically farcical magic remedy.  I really hope that doesn't happen to me...Please, somebody shoot me if I ever claim to have found salvation in geoengineering!  Bitter as it is, I prefer truth to desperate faith.

Despite what might be interpreted as a death-bed conversion, his earlier work is so well-written that at the very end of this post excerpts will be posted - for any who are eager to be plunged deeply and irreversibly into despair, heh.  First though, are pictures from the park, and some links about ozone - which is but one of those imminent threats from the intractable problems no amount of carbon sequestration can fix.
I went to the park to meet with group of activists from Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  The plan was to tour the route that is already being cleared though the woods for the Tennessee pipeline to carry fracked gas to power plants and proposed export terminals at the Atlantic shore, and then plan strategies.  I'm not sure I want to devote much effort, especially attempts to influence legislation, which I think is an utter waste of time, but I wanted to learn more since I only just heard about the numerous pipelines being planned to cross the state like so many grotesque varicose veins.  There is already a good website that explains the issues pretty well.
The corporations who want to construct the pipes and substations have garnered approvals from FERC - the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission - at a dizzying pace, skipping pesky environmental impact statements and cutting swathes through forests in such an onslaught that none of the residents and municipal governments can react in time to intervene successfully.  Shocked and bewildered homeowners are trapped in the predicament of accepting compensation or waiting to be at the mercy of eminent domain in court.  Honestly, between tar sands and deep water drilling and fracking...and now this is as though the world has gone mad.  Well, or you could take the view that multi-national corporations have begun treating US communities the same way America has been abusing third-world countries since forever - snatching whatever resources we want, running roughshod over the indigenous tribes, and then abandoning whatever pollution and trashed ecosystem is left for them to pick through.
In our group we had a genial landscape architect who came along to discuss the impact of clear cutting on the forest soils, wildlife habitat and vegetation.  As we stood amid the broken, balding, tipping trees he asserted with the usual orthodox confidence espoused at forestry academic departments, that what we saw was all part of a typical, natural forest succession.  Of course upon hearing that, I couldn't have possibly refrained from pointing out that the trees are all sickly from air pollution, and that all those dead trees lying on the ground were no where near their genetic age limit when they fell.  Hardwoods like these should live for centuries, and instead their insides are rotting.
He disagreed but didn't seem surprised.  As we were talking I turned to the nearest tree, an oak which wasn't completely dead, and starting pulling at the bark with my fingers.  People looked horrified when they was how easily it pops off, as they should be.  That's about as normal as if your skin came peeling off when you tugged on it!
When we reached the clearing, I pointed out the radial cracks in freshly cut trunks, which I had noticed on many of the trees that fell and were promptly trimmed and removed after Sandy.  Our expert said that it wasn't unusual to see drying at one end.  It can't be normal, I said, or how would you ever get a piece of lumber that didn't fall apart when cut into a board?  He climbed across the tangled branches determined to show me that the other end wasn't also cracked - but when he finally got to the other side and peered at the cut, he just shrugged his shoulders...and I let it go.
One hiker from Bergen County who had overheard our discussion struck up a conversation later on, saying that being an urbanite he rarely, until becoming interested in the pipeline, ever walked in the woods.  He told me that the forest isn't at all what he expected and that he had been thinking it looked barren.  "Moribund" was the awful but accurately descriptive term he chose.  I explained to him the visible symptoms of a dying forest that are all too evident in these pictures - bark encrusted with lichen (that is why they look reflectively white), splitting and peeling and falling off, toppled trees, broken branches, cankers and holes.  Isn't it interesting that virtually all professionals who work with trees haven't realized (or won't admit) they are dying, but this gentleman noticed there are far too many on the ground and too many standing dead as well.  Not to mention, there is no understory, no rustle of animals, and no singing birds or humming insects!
When professionals do acknowledge that trees are dying off, they inevitably blame anything other than pollution.  A favorite culprit is natural pathogens, especially if they're invasive - insects, disease and fungus (all of which are exacerbated when trees have compromised immunity from ozone).  But sometimes, darn it, there just aren't any obvious pathogens and then, the experts turn to drought.  Leaving aside whether the Northeast has become drier or actually wetter thanks to climate change, if drought were the prevailing cause you just might expect trees growing in wetlands or near water to be at least marginally more healthy.  And yet, if anything, the opposite is the case.  A more likely reason is that the water is where all the pollutants end up and trees that are closer to it soak up even more through their roots than the other trees do through their foliage.

In The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway described going bankrupt as "...gradually and then suddenly".  And that is just how our forests are dying.  A study published in January of 2011 notes that, after adjusting for statistical bias from income and other factors, babies born to mothers who lived in Portland neighborhoods with more trees were less likely to be underweight than those in places with fewer trees.
Even though the study notes at the outset that "trees filter air pollution", the researchers speculate that the beneficial effect they have on infant health is due to "stress reduction" in the mother, as opposed to the rather obvious fact, that the mothers are breathing in less toxic ozone.  This is the identical myopia leading to the conclusions drawn by the same USFS forester in the more recent study of the Chicago area, which linked increased cardiovascular and upper respiratory disease to tree removal, and was posted earlier at Wit's End.  These sort of reverse-health studies are fascinating for demonstrating persuasive causation, like the Sacramento study which found over 4,000 fewer cancer deaths over 20 years in a 25-mile radius following the shut-down of a nuclear power plant.  "Previous studies on the rates of cancer near eight closed nuclear reactors showed a 25 percent decrease in childhood cancers, while the national rate rose 0.5 percent 10 years after the plants closed."  Hmmmm... 

 The following is from the Portland research:

"You've heard all the obvious benefits of urban trees -- shading buildings, sheltering wildlife, filtering air pollution, stopping erosion. A new Portland study suggests a more surprising benefit: healthier newborns."
"Researchers used satellite images to compare tree cover around the houses of 5,696 women who gave birth in Portland in 2006 and 2007. Pregnant women living in houses graced by more trees were significantly less likely to deliver undersized babies."

"Tree cover made no difference in the rate of pre-term births, but researchers found a consistent link to the prevalence of infants who were small for their gestational age. For each 10 percent increase in tree coverage within about 50 yards of a home, the rate of undersized newborns decreased by 1.42 per 1000 births. As it stands, about 70 of every 1,000 newborns in Portland are small for gestational age."
"'Maybe it sounds a bit daft at first,' says lead author Geoffrey Donovan, a scientist with the U.S. Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station in Portland. But he says it's plausible that having lots of trees nearby counteracts the stress experienced by pregnant women."

"Maybe it sounds a bit daft at first," says lead author Geoffrey Donovan.

It sounds DAFT because it is!  Pollution removal is obviously the reason more trees means better health.  But then, what else is new.  The ICP Forests - (take a deep breath) otherwise known as The International Co-operative Programme on Assessment and Monitoring of Air Pollution Effects on Forests, which describes its mission as "operating under the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution" has issued their 2012 report.
It's a glossy twenty-page brochure with pictures and graphs but before I mention the contents, I will have to bore you with their statement of purpose:

A programme tailored for comprehensive information on forest condition in Europe

"ICP Forests was launched in 1985 under the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) due to the growing public awareness of possible adverse effects of air pollution on forests. ICP Forests monitors the forest condition in Europe, in cooperation with the European Union using two different monitoring intensity levels. The first grid (called Level I) is based on around 6000 observation plots on a systematic transnational grid of 16 x 16 km throughout Europe. The intensive monitoring level comprises around 500 Level II plots in selected forest ecosystems in Europe. Currently 41 countries participate in the ICP Forests."
Got that?  Forty-one countries are monitoring five hundred plots for effects of air pollution.  Well guess what?  Assuming my new handy-dandy trick is working [which is, to press the "command" key and then the "F" key, upon which a little "find" window pops up on the top right of my screen, into which I can type a word and it will then be highlighted in whatever document is open at the time...I know, everyone but me knew that and I've spent HOURS and HOURS reading papers looking for the word "ozone"], the 2012 report mentions ozone exactly...ONCE.  That's right!  ONCE, and not even in the text, but in this chart:

Ozonists and Ozonistas might be forgiven for asking WHAT THE HELL?  How can you have a report about pollution and forests that only mentions ozone ONCE when it is acknowledged by every forester and agronomist in the world to be the MOST IMPORTANT PHYTOTOXIC POLLUTANT EVER??? ["Ozone causes up to 90 percent of the air pollution injury to vegetation in the United States." - from that link]
Here is a clue:

"One aim of the monitoring under the ICP Forests programme is to assess the status and development of European forest health and vitality at the large scale.  Another is to assess the effects of different stress factors on forest ecosystems. Air pollution effects were the original focus of the programme but other stress factors such as changes in climate and land use have been considered in recent years."

I would say that not only have they "considered" other stress factors such as climate, they have utterly abandoned the "original focus" of air pollution effects, particularly ozone, in favor of nitrogen deposition - despite the fact that nitrogen is an ozone precursor.  Why?  I don't know, but I can guess.  Climate is where the research money is....although that just begs the same question ...Why?  The background level of tropospheric ozone has only increased, and is predicted to increase even more as emissions continue to climb, and as more heat catalyzes more ozone production.
Maybe, it's just too scary, and everyone realizes that nothing has been done or will be done to stop  or even slow burning fuel and creation of precursors.  Some conclusions they make are clear:  More research is needed, and so is more money.

"In contrast to decreasing sulphur deposition, mean nitrogen inputs have shown only a minor decrease over the past ten years. There is clearly a need for more emissions reductions in this field.  Critical loads for nitrogen deposition are likely to be exceeded on 30% of the forest sites by 2020. This year’s results show that more than half of the sites with high nitrogen inputs are nitrogen-saturated. These forests can no longer retain additional nitrogen which is then leached into ground and surface waters. The evaluations reveal nutrient imbalances specifically in areas with high nitrogen deposition loads."

Another newly published research project that ignores ozone is to be found in the March edition of PlosOne.  The title declares:  "Urban Warming Drives Insect Pest Abundance on Street Trees".  One of the authors, in answer to my inquiry as to whether they factored the influence of ozone into their study, responded:

Hi Gail

Thanks for your interest. We did not manipulate ozone in our experiments. There is no way to control ozone around the outdoor trees but in our indoor study ozone would have been the same.

Actually, since heat increases the concentration of ozone, that might not even be true.  But it's a quibble, because the offspring of insects from hotter areas did better in both cold and warm greenhouses than offspring of insects from colder areas.  The hotter insects in the hotter greenhouses did the best.

It still doesn't prove temperature is the primary reason, however, because even the authors themselves say abundance in the greenhouses could be a carry-over trait from being outdoors:  "..we cannot eliminate the possibility that observed abundance patterns resulted from maternal effects or phenotypic plasticity of offspring leading to acclimation, rather than from genetic differences between P. quercifex from hotter and colder areas."
The full abstract:

"Our common garden experiment shows that P. quercifex is locally acclimated or adapted to urban thermal conditions and that this directly leads to higher abundance. P. quercifex from hot urban areas became almost 4 times more abundant than those from cold urban areas when placed in hot greenhouses. This effect is likely due to differences in survival, because we found no differences in fecundity between P. quercifex from hot and cold sites. We suggest that P. quercifex may locally adapt in response to urban warming, as other studies provide evidence for local adaptation in scale insects. The scale insect life cycle, which is often parthenogenetic and highly localized, inhibits gene flow, and evidence suggests this could lead to differentiation at small spatial scales. Further, at least one other scale insects species has been shown to adapt to thermal conditions within its introduced range. However, we cannot eliminate the possibility that observed abundance patterns resulted from maternal effects or phenotypic plasticity of offspring leading to acclimation, rather than from genetic differences between P. quercifex from hotter and colder areas. While the specific mechanism by which warming increases P. quercifex abundance warrants further investigation, our findings show that P. quercifex are primed to survive better in response to warming, be it urban or global."
"For more than a century, scientists have documented that arthropod pests, including scale insects, are more abundant on urban trees than rural trees. We provide evidence that urban heat may explain this effect, and we show that small temperature differences predict changes of an order of magnitude in pest abundance. We observed this effect over a temperature gradient common in many urban heat islands, indicating that urban warming poses a broad and immediate threat to urban trees and the services they provide, including cooling and carbon sequestration. The adaptation or acclimation of herbivorous pests to warm environments may represent an ecological tipping point after which arthropod pests can overwhelm plant defenses and escape natural enemy control."
For more than a century, scientists have documented that arthropod pests, including scale insects, are more abundant on urban trees than rural trees.  Without experiments controlling both temperature and ozone, there's simply no way to distinguish how much role either factor influences insect populations and damage to trees.  It shouldn't be that hard to do, in filtered greenhouses.  You could also compare the same pests on city oaks in North Carolina with urban areas in higher latitudes, because if it is solely due to temperature, then the southern trees would have more insects than the northern trees.  If anyone wanted to know, that is.

At last, as promised following are excerpts from the first two articles mentioned at the top of the post, by Adam Sacks.  If you want to read his latest, the premise of which is that it's too late to stop or slow climate change (with which I have long concurred) therefore we must mitigate (which is a pipe dream) click here.

Everything that follows is the work of Adam Sacks.  I don't want to make it difficult to read with endless quote marks or italics or colored backgrounds, so please don't anyone mistake this for my original writing, okay?
from The Fallacy of Climate Activism - published in Grist

Climate activists are obsessed with greenhouse-gas emissions and concentrations. Since global climate disruption is an effect of greenhouse gases, and a disastrous one, this is understandable. But it is also a mistake.

Such is the fallacy of climate activism: We insist that global warming is merely a consequence of greenhouse-gas emissions. Since it is not, we fail to tell the truth to the public.

I think that there are two serious errors in our perspectives on greenhouse gases:

Global Warming as Symptom

The first error is our failure to understand that greenhouse gases are not a cause but a symptom, and addressing the symptom will do little but leave us with a devil’s sack full of many other symptoms, possibly somewhat less rapidly lethal but lethal nonetheless.

The root cause, the source of the symptoms, is 300 years of our relentlessly exploitative, extractive, and exponentially growing technoculture, against the background of ten millennia of hierarchical and colonial civilizations. This should be no news flash, but the seductive promise of endless growth has grasped all of us civilized folk by the collective throat, led us to expand our population in numbers beyond all reason and to commit genocide of indigenous cultures and destruction of other life on Earth.

To be sure, global climate disruption is the No. 1 symptom. But if planetary warming were to vanish tomorrow, we would still be left with ample catastrophic potential to extinguish many life forms in fairly short order: deforestation; desertification; poisoning of soil, water, air; habitat destruction; overfishing and general decimation of oceans; nuclear waste, depleted uranium, and nuclear weaponry — to name just a few. (While these symptoms exist independently, many are intensified by global warming.)
We will not change course by addressing each of these as separate issues; we have to address root cultural cause.

Beyond Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The second error is our stubborn unwillingness to understand that the battle against greenhouse-gas emissions, as we have currently framed it, is over.
It is absolutely over and we have lost.

We have to say so.

There are three primary components of escalating greenhouse-gas concentrations that are out of our control:
Thirty-Year Lag
The first is that generally speaking the effects we are seeing today, as dire as they are, are the result of atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide in the range of only 330 parts per million (ppm), not the result of today’s concentrations of almost 390 ppm. This is primarily a consequence of the vast inertial mass of the oceans, which absorb temperature and carbon dioxide and create a roughly 30-year lag between greenhouse-gas emissions and their effects. We are currently seeing the effects of greenhouse gases emitted before 1980.

Just as the scientific community hadn’t realized how rapidly and extensively geophysical and biological systems would respond to increases in atmospheric greenhouse-gas concentrations, we currently have only a rough idea of what that 60 ppm already emitted will mean, even if we stopped our emissions today. But we do know, with virtual certainty, that it will be full of unpleasant surprises.
Positive Feedback Loops
The second out-of-control component is positive (amplifying) feedback loops. The odd thing about positive feedbacks is that they are often ignored in assessing the effects of greenhouse-gas emissions. Our understanding of them is limited and our ability to insert them into an equation is rudimentary. Our inability to grasp them, however, in no way mitigates their effects, which are as real as worldwide violent weather.

It is now clear that several phenomena are self-sustaining, amplifying cycles; for example, melting ice and glaciers, melting tundra and other methane sources, and increasing ocean saturation with carbon dioxide, which leads to increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide. These feedbacks will continue even if we reduce our human emissions to zero — and all of our squiggly lightbulbs, Priuses, wind turbines, Waxman-Markeys, and Copenhagens won’t make one bit of difference. Not that we shouldn’t stop all greenhouse-gas emissions immediately — of course we should — but that’s only a necessity, not nearly a sufficient response.

We need to find the courage to say so. 

The third component is non-linearity, which means that the effects of rising temperature and atmospheric carbon concentrations may change suddenly and unpredictably. While we may assume linearity for natural phenomena because linearity is much easier to assess and to predict, many changes in nature are non-linear, often abruptly so. A common example is the behavior of water. The changes of state of water — solid, liquid, gas — happen abruptly. It freezes suddenly at 0°C, not at 1°, and it turns to steam at 100°, not at 99°. If we were to limit our experience of water to the range of 1° to 99°, we would never know of the existence of ice or steam.

This is where we stand in relationship to many aspects of the global climate. We don’t know where the tipping points — effectively the changes of state — are for such events as the irreversible melting of glaciers, release of trapped methane from tundras and seabeds, carbon saturation of the oceans. Difficult to pin down, tipping points may be long past, or just around the corner. As leading climatologist Jim Hansen has written, “Present knowledge does not permit accurate specification of the dangerous level of human-made GHGs. However, it is much lower than has commonly been assumed. If we have not already passed the dangerous level, the energy infrastructure in place ensures that we will pass it within several decades.”
Evidence of non-linearity is strong, not only from the stunning acceleration of climate change in just the past couple of years, but from the wild behavior of the climate over millions of years, which sometimes changed dramatically within periods as short as a decade.

The most expert scientific investigators have been blindsided by the velocity and extent of recent developments, and the climate models have likewise proved far more conservative than nature itself. Given that scientists have underestimated impacts of even small changes in global temperature, it is understandably difficult to elicit an appropriate public and governmental response.
Beyond the Box
We climate activists have to tread on uncertain ground and rapidly move beyond our current unpleasant but comfortable parts-per-million box. Here are some things we need to say, over and over again, everywhere, in a thousand different ways:

Bitter climate truths are fundamentally bitter cultural truths. Endless growth is an impossibility in the physical world, always — but always— ending in overshot and collapse. Collapse: with a bang or a whimper, most likely both. We are already witnessing it, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.

Because of this civilization’s obsession with growth, its demise is 100 percent predictable. We simply cannot go on living this way. Our version of life on earth has come to an end.

Moreover, there are no “free market” or “economic” solutions. And since corporations must have physically impossible endless growth in order to survive, corporate social responsibility is a myth. The only socially responsible act that corporations can take is to dissolve.
We can’t bargain with the forces of nature, trading slightly less harmful trinkets for a fantasied reprieve. Geophysical processes care not one whit for our politics, our economics, our evening meals, our theologies, our love for our children, our plaintive cries of innocence and error.
We can either try to plan the transition, even at this late hour, or the physical forces of the world will do it for us — indeed, they already are. As Alfred Crosby stated in his remarkable book, Ecological Imperialism, mother nature’s ministrations are never gentle.

read the rest here
...from The Natural Laws of Collapse, published in CultureChange

...The culture which drives us, whether we deplore it or not, likes us to go around in activism circles whenever we threaten to question its most basic tenets -- activism keeps us busy and harmless. Notwithstanding, the forbidden point to consider here is that collapse of civilizations, including ours, is inevitable and always has been. Hidden in plain sight, we have not grasped what will sooner or later become obvious: Civilizational collapse is not up to any of us, no matter what we do. As when faced with an unstoppable Hurricane Katrina, which is only obeying the laws of nature, the best we can do is to be prepared.

To elaborate a bit: there are indeed laws of nature that govern human groups, just as there are physical/biological laws that govern any living creature. This seems as if it should be obvious. These laws, particularly in relationship to civilizations, may not be so obvious as the laws governing the behavior of a falling apple, but they are every bit as inviolable.

In order to live within the constraints of such laws, which civilized humans habitually seem to forget (not only in Euro-American civilization, but in all other civilizations throughout known history), we have to re-learn them (a central theme in Ishmael) [2]. And by "civilization," I mean human societies more or less larger than chiefdoms, industrialized or not, living in central dwellings more or less distant from sources of food and other necessities, with a distinct class structure that differentiates between a ruling oligarchy and everybody else.
What kinds of laws are these? Pretty simple really. Primarily, any biological organism, including humans, will grow exponentially until it runs into limits to growth, or overshoot of carrying capacity. The wall may be in the form of no more food, or competing species, or new competing members of one's own species. Sometimes a balance is struck, and an equilibrium is maintained for an indefinite period of time if and until an external event upsets the balance (e.g., a new species in the niche, climate change, etc.).
A critical corollary is that exponential growth is an imperative. Any species will expand its numbers if it possibly can for as long as it can.

Now with humans sometimes culture adapts to perceptions of limits, and develops norms that restrict expansion of self-defeating growth (China's one-child policy is an example of such an attempt, successful or not); island cultures may do that because the limits are painfully obvious. But, as on Easter Island, ecosystem reality may remain unappreciated, as people would often rather die than change their culture, and die they did.

As civilizations grow larger the ability to change seems to dwindle, and we witness all civilizations in history going through their birth, vigor, then death, until, as in Ozymandias,

. . . Nothing beside remains: round the decay 
Of that collosal wreck, boundless and bare, 
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
In one of my top ten books of the 20th century, Joseph Tainter (The Collapse of Complex Societies) explains, in terms of the flow of energy (he calls it "marginal return"), why civilizations must collapse. Social complexity is very expensive, and the more a civilization grows the less you get back per unit of input (also called "diminishing returns"). Sooner or later every civilization busts its budget, cannot afford its armies or its bureaucracies, is unable to suppress increasing dissatisfaction among the masses who must be at least nominally pacified (think bread and circuses), exhausts its resources, suffers from its environmental travesties (the most salient of which is destruction of trees and soil), runs out of food, and is eventually supplanted by simpler more sustainable groups (if there are any around) or just disperses (if there's any place left to disperse to).
I would propose that the civilizational life cycle, as described above, is a law of nature. The collapse is therefore predictable. It has nothing to do with our specific Euro-American now-gone-global deplorable civilization -- it has to do with any civilization that gets to a certain size, necessitating hierarchy and class. Cultures will vary in their metaphors and style, partly depending upon geography, as Jared Diamond has pointed out, but the final outcome will be the same: collapse.

And that's where we are now. The determining factor is size (relative to resources). All else is simply the stories we tell ourselves.

We can write to politicians, we can riot in the streets, we can write learned tomes, we can cavort through the vast wasteland of talk radio, we can make impassioned documentaries, we can bring down Monsanto, we can put up solar panels and drink organic yak's milk. None of that will change the outcome one bit (as tragic as that may be now that humans have become a global force) -- because civilization is on a course prescribed by laws of nature which have no regard whatsoever for human wishful thinking.
It sounds grim, what can we actually do? Well, once we recognize the reality -- but not until then -- we can act on it. As far as I can tell, acting on it means getting ready to live our lives within planetary means. It may be too late for that, as the climate prepares to rage wildly beyond livability, but let us try what we can (which may include pulling carbon out of the atmosphere so somebody will survive).

Preparing ourselves is not a salve for the terrible pain of our current predicament, but it's about as good as it gets -- and is full of relationship and a renewed sense of community, so that we may, at the very least, as Elizabeth K├╝bler-Ross once put it, live until we say goodbye.

~ Adam Sacks

Oh, well - first daughter's farm is overflowing with various Dutch warmblood dressage trainees, so she brought my fat little pony Pipsqueak home yesterday...with a sweet, pretty yearling named Ambielle.  Welcome to Wit's End!


  1. are a true wonder.
    Just say'n.
    How many were in the group?
    Jacob Horner

  2. Good post!

    I believe that linear regression (yes, the mainstay of modern statistics) is a perpetrator of hoaxes. All linear functions in nature remain linear for only a part of their possible range(s) as your quote points out using water as an example. I'm glad that someone agrees with me. Using linear regression on variables outside of their linear range(s) can only lead to junk science and/or incorrect results. Every modeled variable needs to be examined for it's acceptable range(s).

    I don't remember anyone at the University mentioning this possibility concerning linear regression and its obscured short comings. But that might just be my faulty memory.

    Feel free to remind.

  3. There were about 25 people in the group, appx. All really nice people. The webpage and much of the organizing is being done by a young guy who now has been fined for doing a tree sit. I really admire these kids that are working really hard and taking risks.

    The non-linear hoax! I like it, Catman!

  4. 25...good turnout. I've been following Alex & Gifford and their fight against the travesties up north. I liked this recent unique video - Alex is in there...
    Great job by Zakee.
    Jacob Horner

  5. Gail, I had to stop - started crying. Will finish later when I put my "I'm OK face back on". Thank you for your persistence in recording the horror that is happening to the trees and the world. Kathy


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