Monday, July 20, 2015

Dispatch from the Endocene, #7

Below is the transcript and links for the 7th Dispatch from the Endocene, which aired on Sunday, July 19.  The podcast can be heard at the Extinction Radio website.  My part begins at 1 hour 6 minutes into the broadcast.  Many thanks to the hardworking producers, and all the other contributers, especially for the marvelous poetry from Rex Eagle and Benjamin the Donkey...enjoy!

Welcome to the 7th Dispatch From the Endocene, and thanks for listening.  Links to all the information I will mention will be found at the Extinction Radio website.

There is never any lack of material when the topic is the staggering and accelerating loss of earth’s biodiversity.  Much of it is directly due to hunting animals for meat or dubious medical purposes, and logging or other forms of habitat destruction for mining or agriculture.  Less disruptive but perhaps more despicable, there is illegal collecting of protected species - for enthusiasts of plants like orchids, or tropical birds.

One particularly sad episode was the discovery of 3,800 endangered Philippine forest turtles, found tossed in a cement tank in a warehouse.  The turtles were in horrible dehydrated condition, the injured buried under piles of the dead.  Rescuers were able to nurse many of them back to health and release them, but the episode highlights the nefarious activity of poaching for the exotic pet trade as another reason that wildlife is endangered.

Another more elusive cause is no doubt anthropogenic in origin, but harder to trace directly to warming, to pollution, or disease.  That would be incidents like the unexplained dieoff of sea stars up and down the west coast of North America, a tragedy which is updated in a well-researched and worthy article that I highly recommend.  Another is the sudden and inexplicable desertion of their nests, by thousands of sea birds in Florida.  Indeed, a new study reveals that globally, sea bird populations are down by an incredible 70 percent since the 1950’s, which doesn’t bode well for marine species in general.

Yet another pressure on wildlife comes from competition with domesticated animals for habitat and food, which affects little vulnerable mammalian species such as the elusive, and adorably fuzzy Chinese Ili Pika.  For a comprehensive, updated list of links to worldwide dieoff events, you could do worse that visiting  Even though they are religious fundamentalists they post exhaustive links to legitimate news stories.

Probably anyone who knows anything about climate change has spent an annoying week swatting at the avalanche of news reports, most of them stupidly distorting recent research regarding sunspots.  There is nothing in the research to indicate we are heading for a mini ice age, but you would never know it from the sloppy media coverage.  

Aside from that, the frenzy it stirred up reminds me once again that the environmental movement made a colossal mistake by allowing the debate over climate change to dominate research and activism.  Not that CO2 isn’t the most important initial forcing greenhouse gas, or that climate change isn’t an existential threat.  But the single-minded emphasis on that facet of overshoot has enabled deniers, both the idiot and the malicious types, to deflect any serious conversation about what underlies climate change.

In fact, as recounted by the UK Guardian environmental editor John Vidal following his recent heart bypass surgery, the concern with CO2 led to a turn towards diesel fuel in Europe, which has since led to far worse health impacts from higher concentrations of nitrogen dioxide and particulate pollution.  He wrote:  “So was my health and that of millions of others cynically traded off against the urgency to control climate emissions? Those working in the UK government in the 1990s recall how climate change trumped any objections from scientists, or from the few people who understood the health implications of a major switch to diesel.”

A similar question might be asked about ethanol and other biofuels, which also emit far more nitrous oxides, a precursor of ozone.  And yet another question might be asked, but almost never is - How much is air pollution sickening wild animals, insects like bees, and plants and trees?

For whatever complicated reasons, the issue of climate change seized the discourse decades ago, and ecology was left to the “softer” science of biology, a discipline looked down upon by physicists and atmospheric chemists.  It turned out to be quite fortuitous for corporations that climate change dangers in the future are easier for people to ignore and for politicians to quibble over, than even more pressing concerns such as not having clean water, running out of fish, and forests being poisoned by ozone.  

There are still lots of climate and social justice activists who claim overpopulation isn’t a problem, even accusing those who are concerned about it of being racist.

So with all this running through my mind it was a fun coinkydink that a friend emailed me an essay titled “Facts - The Coming Destruction of Civilization in the Very Near Future”.  The author is named Jason G. Brent, and his website is, where you can find more of his writings and a link to his book, called “Humans - An Endangered Species”.

The fascinating thing about the essay is that Mr. Brent makes a persuasive case that civilization is going to collapse, and the human population is going to plunge precipitously if not disappear entirely, without ever once even mentioning climate change.  He comes to this conclusion simply by exploring various scenarios to answer the question he poses, which is:  “How long will it take humankind to completely consume all of the Earth’s resources and destroy itself?”

The way in which he examines this seldom-asked question probably derives from his background as an engineer, with degrees in business, and law.  Mr. Brent looks at the compound growth of population and the economy and has discovered it will inevitably end in a disaster for humanity.  It’s a sort of “do the math” for population similar to McKibben’s Rolling Stone article, Do The Math, for CO2 ppm in the atmosphere.  He compares various UN population projections and relates them to two major, finite resources, essential to contemporary life.  Oil, and fresh water, are both already severely constrained and about to become dramatically more so.  This scarcity will have an increasingly devastating impact on human society, and he predicts civility will break down in horrendous ways should the human population continue its trend of compound growth.

Ultimately Mr. Brent brings us to a point even more rarely considered, which is, when are we going to discuss coercive birth control?  Is it better to hope that voluntary birth control will be sufficient, or leave reduction to be effected by resource wars, at least some of which will almost certainly deploy weapons of mass destruction, rendering swathes of the Earth irradiated?

He lays out the only available options as three:

a) War, starvation, disease and other horrors.
b) Voluntary population control.
c) Coercive population control

To those who recoil at the thought of coercive, I was surprised to see that he quotes my Facebook friend Paul Chefurka (thus proving what a tiny minority the doomer world represents!):

“Is there bread and milk on the store shelves?  If so, everything is fine, so abortion and infanticide can be regarded as sins.  Cut the food supply by 50% and watch the morality change”.

My thought has always been that only coercive birth control will be effective, but it’s not worth pursuing because it will never be acceptable.  Mr. Brent makes the case that even so, it must be put on the table, because the alternatives a and b are, respectively, unthinkable and highly unlikely to succeed.

An interesting contrast to his position can be found in James Hansen’s 2014 Opinion paper, in which he promotes widespread proliferation of nuclear power plants.  According to his analysis, the other so-called clean energy sources - wind, solar, geothermal and so forth - will be wholly insufficient to power modern society - and enable the people of developing nations to rise out of poverty which translates into greater consumption of energy and manufactured products.  He went so far as to call the faith that green technology will save civilization a myth, and scornfully posted a clip from a post-Three Mile Island anti-nuclear protest with Ralph Nader and people promoting not only solar and wind, but also, wood-burning stoves and coal.  He seems frustrated that the general public and the politicians pandering to their anti-science tendencies fail to accurately assess relative risks, noting that fossil fuel emissions kill far more people than nuclear ever dreamed of.  In fact, a new study just emerged claiming that air pollution kills nearly 9,500 per year in London alone.

And yet Hansen seems to have no cognizance that overpopulation is the root of our imminent reckoning with limits to growth.  Perhaps he hangs his well-known hat on the notion that greater prosperity from nuclear power will lower the growth rate without any deliberate effort required, which is…another myth.

There is a video on youtube that zooms in and out of a massively detailed NASA photograph of the Andromeda Galaxy.  It’s truly beautiful and terrible that highly advanced technology has enabled us to see such a wondrous sight that we would never be able to view with the naked eye, although we might imagine it. The universe is so vast, that watching it I had to feel convinced that there must be many, many other planets where life has begun, and places where intelligent, sentient, sophisticated species have evolved - and then, as more and more planets and stars emerged from infinity I could only think that the solution to Fermi’s Paradox must be that sad, and paradoxically comforting notion, that by the time a species achieves the technology to travel or communicate through space, they will have run out of resources, and out of time.

As we humans on earth are, for all but the shouting, out of our brief time here.  If you want to keep up with all the bad news that Fox won’t tell you, check out the website Global Risk Report - which presents an excellent aggregate of the latest and most interesting articles, research, and blog posts about energy, the economy, and the environment.

That’s all for this week, thanks to the producers of this show and especially to Mike Ferrigan, our founder, whom I will greatly miss.


  1. I'm impressed with the work you are doing, for two reasons.

    First of all, it's not all about you. Hagiography is the last thing we need right now.

    And second, you are adept at demonstrating that there's not simply one causal factor involved in determining our likely fate. You can remove any particular factor from the doom equation, and still get the same result - indeed, as we are well into the 6th Great Extinction, we are getting the result already.

    Even if all the clathrates stay right where they are, we're out of space, out of time, out of resources - and therefore shit out of luck.

    Arguing about whether any people will make it through a bottleneck is about as useful as debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Even if there's "only" a 90% die off of our species, and 10% adapt because humans are remarkable at adapting to changing conditions in a way no other species is - we're talking about 6.3 billion people biting the dust, in a very nasty and brutish way.

    If there is a remnant, they'd best not need an emergency room, because there ain't gonna be none.

    Most folks are going to deny all this for as long as possible, because that's just what human beings do. Even smart humans, like this guy John Vidal, who was somehow able to compartmentalize his smoking habit for two decades.

    It's just what we do. We're not truly rational beings. We have plenty of other vectors that drive our thoughts, feelings and behaviors - all of us.

    C'est La Vie.

  2. what C'est La Vie said!

    Great job Gail - it's such a pleasure listening to a voice of reason (and my favorite limerick artist BtD) lay it out so people can understand that "we ain't makin' this shit up, he'e'!"


  3. I'll offer one suggestion for you to take under advisement, Gail:

    You can be either a first rate reporter of the facts (as you were in this piece), or a third rate bar stool philosopher.

    The latter appeals to our egotism a lot more than the former, but has zero value add for the ongoing discussion.

    Case in point: The useless babble that has has overtaken the NBL site, where people argue endlessly about the arcana of their respective philosophies, psychologies, religions, economic models and general visions of "how things ought to be". This is a direct result of Guy McPherson's deciding that he was going to shift careers 10 years ago, and stop being a scientist and start being a social critic.

    From what I can gather, he was a top notch scientist, within his field. Because he was such a good scientist, he's been able to make a valuable contribution gleaning bits and pieces of an emerging set of climate data that is still not set in stone, and still a matter of debate.

    But his "contributions" as a social critic are puerile, gross over-simplifications of the complexity of the human condition that has brought us here - another subject you have covered well in your prior piece. Saying that the real problem is "empire" or "patriarchy", or first world dominance, or suggesting that we should (or could) dismantle industrial civilization - these are not real contributions at all, but just his hobbyhorses.

    It's not that social criticism has no use nor value - it's just that in this unique situation, where we are at checkmate, there is no more value left in that domain.

    Similarly in the realm of philosophies of life. What value could there possibly be in my calling you a fool for having a different matrix of beliefs about life than I do? You, for example, are a materialist, and find consolation in existentialism. Your friend Paul Chefurka is a transcendentalist, and finds consolation in his religion/spirituality. What's important as we face these most difficult times is that you both find consolation, not that you see the world in the same way.

    Again, you can look at NBL to see these foolish battle lines being drawn, and these memetic wars being fought, over and over again over the course of the entire lifetime of that site's existence - and like kudzu, it eventually chokes out all the other potentially helpful and useful dialogue and discussion.

    I think that we generally, and you specifically, can do better than that - and I hope you continue to keep your eye on the ball and keep your bar stool philosophizing for some other time and space so it doesn't clutter up the fine work you're doing right now.

    C'est La Vie

  4. Well done Gail.

    C'est La Vie, why don't you create your own blog and show every misguided doomer how it is supposed to be done down to the minutia? Or is it a case of those who can't teach? or is that preach? The entire blog could be devoted to criticizing the varied shortcomings of every doomer blog out there. Kinda like Rotten Tomatoes for doomer bloggers and commenters.


  6. Ah now see msr. la vie, McPherson isn't primarily a social critic, he just makes rather obvious statements of the shortcomings of capitalism and failure of leadership now and then - but most of his time is spent on presentations of his position (based on the best available science), connecting the dots, as it were, so normal, non-scientific people can understand what's comin' down the pike. As a side job, he suggests ways to handle that information by "living a life of excellence" (which is up to individuasl to ascertain for themselves). As to the commenters there, well everyone's got some opinion or other. I try to just present the facts as they arise and stay out of the general discussions because, like you, I don't see it being pertinent at this point. I don't mind the others doing what they want there. You probably shouldn't worry about it either.
    Just sayin'.


  7. Pertaining to the 6th Great Extinction (which is well underway)

    The lucky ones will die first.

    Did you know that National Geographic had a special edition for subscribers about 1992 which was dedicated to the 6th Great Extinction? I couldn't find it online the last time I looked.

    Wouldn't you rather die in our familiar world where we recognize the dangers and where we can find safety, than in some world where there's no predictable climate, little to no food, and limited knowledge of new dangers?

    Are you feeling lucky today?


  8. Thanks Gail! You hint at the one thing that has disturbed me the most over the 10 years I've been examining the human clusterfuck. No matter which apparently isolated global "problem" one is moved to examine - resource depletion, climate change, ocean acidification, deforestation, desertification, fresh water depletion, declining soil fertility, habitat loss, biodiversity loss, extinctions, or rising economic and social inequalities - it takes only a bit of open-minded research to realize that they are all interconnected.

    No matter where one begins, within three short steps of deductive logic one is staring at their common root cause: too many people with too much energy.

    In the article Dr. Brent proposes three possible resolutions: a) the Four Horsemen, b) voluntary population control and c) coercive population control.

    Voluntary population control is already under way, with varying success around the world. Unfortunately it works far too slowly and gently to be considered any kind of resolution to the crisis that is already upon us.

    Coercive population control is of course repugnant to most people, especially since their normalcy bias doesn't permit them to imagine a future so bad that such an abrogation of personal freedom would be appropriate.

    In any event, falling populations for any reason scare the shit out of economists and politicians, who will fight to their last breath to prevent such an outcome.

    So as far as I can tell, b) and c) are both off the table. But many of us have an intuitive sense that population levels will inevitably fall, as they do for all species in drastic overshoot.

    The only mechanism that has the lifting power to accomplish that is the Four Horsemen. Their horses are perhaps named "Climate Chaos", "Food Disruption", "Overcrowding" and "Politics". As those horses thunder over the horizon, the world's population will "naturally" decline under the swinging of their riders' scythes.

    Too bad, so sad.

  9. Falling Tree Branch Hits, Injures Boys Playing on NYC Playground

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Paul Chefurka, thanks for the great overview found in your earlier comment. I was hoping that you or someone would comment on this posting: Is this a coercive plan for population reduction, and does it matter?

    "What if one of our planet’s resident billionaires hires some lab to develop a genetically engineered mild, common-cold-like ailment that has the side effect of rendering 19 out of 20 people sterile in about 6 months or a year? (An ailment with no antidote or vaccine.) The ailment would be released worldwide at the same time. Wouldn't over population would be solved in one generation, but without the massive destruction of war?

    Or those billionaires could just let those 19 out or 20 to starve to death and watch the widespread destruction of a societal resource breakdown."

    If the billionaire's contribution to planetary human depopulation results in the reversal of climate change and the present widespread eco-destruction and basically save our civilization,
    would this be a just and moral cause for him to use his fortunes to pursue?

    1. This is why the nastiest always win, I think. You could even say that HSS was the nastiest of all the other hominids, which is why none of them are around anymore. In order to actively intervene with evil, you have to become evil yourself. It's like the question, if you suspected what Hitler was going to do, would you have assassinated him? And then, there's the Trolley Problem:

      It's possible that humans with morals are paralyzed when it comes to doing something proactive about overpopulation.

    2. catman306,

      Would it make a moral difference if it was a group of politicians instead of billionaires?

      Don't kid yourself, reducing population growth that much would produce plenty of destruction - maybe even war. People are not known for going quietly into that good night.

      In my opinion morality is a human group-cohesion invention, whose particulars are shaped in great measure by a society's physical circumstances. Most morality is mo more than expedient self-justification dressed up in a tuxedo. As a result I don't have much truck with the concept any more, and have as a result abandoned the notions of good and evil. So I'm probably the wrong person to ask that question of.


  12. Msr. C'est La Vie scientist are as a general rule great idiots. They know a great deal about what amounts to nothing, and next to nothing about everything else. In order to see the bigger picture you must pull all their little nothings together. This process is called a general review of the science. Once you have done that you are ready to do not some sort of really, really big science. No instead you are ready to philosophize. A good starting point for your philosophizing might be to develop a philosophy of science. A favorite of mine, in that area is, Clarence E. Ayers Science the False Messiah first published in 1927.

    Another way of putting it -- science establishes the facts. Once those facts are know as best as they can be, then you are ready to derive meaning. That is one of those little things we humans do that apparently no other animal does. All other animals stick to the facts of feeding and breeding. Then they die. We in contrast start with the facts of feeding, breeding and know the fact that we will die.

    Gail I am not following the logic of the jump from HSS being the nastiest of the hominids around, thus being the only hominid round to stopping Hitler. Hitler was stopped and was it not by other HSS willing to do anything to stop him? If WW II was true to HSS behavioral form then those willing to be the nastiest won. Is that not correct?

    A thought just occurred to me. Perhaps our extra knowledge is what makes us so nasty?

    1. Lucas I am talking about the species, not countries or political parties or individuals. Also a question becomes why was Hitler stopped? Was it because everyone thought he was bad, or because he was invading neighboring countries? What was the result of the war? Did the world become a better place? How has the primary victor, the US, behaved since we defeated Nazi Germany? Let's see - nuclear weapons testing (including on the Japanese), countless foreign coups, assassinations, institutionalized torture, the biggest proportion of prison population on the planet, Vietnam, Iran Contra, ignoring genocide all over the place, Bill and Monica, Iraq, globalization and the enslavement of third world peasants, mounting pollution killing forests and life in the ocean, climate change, and now the cops are killing people for not stubbing out their cigarette...the atrocities are endless. So tell me again how good triumphed over evil, heh!

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. Not to mention that it was only Germany's militaristic ambitions that were thwarted, not its imperialist urges. They just switched from field guns to finance, and invaded Europe again, with Greece standing in for Poland this time around..

  14. the video you put on youtube The Silent War on Trees has been viewed 1243 times. The next one in line, How to Fell or Cut Down a Tree with a Chainsaw (in a totally dead forest in 2013) has been viewed 1 192 030 times with nobody noticing that it is a dead forest. It says it all.

    I am living in some kind of trance... Feeling very weak with a constant nausea from all that I feel... Some days, I cannot hold it together. Absolutely terrified. We are just coming out of 4 days of temps warm enough to almost steam your lungs (but far under the 154F registered in Iran!

    1. Yes, my video is notable for its total lack of popularity! I guess I wasn't destined to be a film producer after all...

      Put together the droughts, the floods, the heat, the failing crops, the dying forests, the melting ice and I think a trance is a perfectly rational response.

  15. Where Have The Trees Gone?

    "Reno was designated a Tree City by the Arbor Foundation nearly 33 years ago — a distinction held thanks to its healthy, mature canopy. But the city’s tree population is disappearing — by as much as 20 percent over the last two decades. Reno Public Radio’s Julia Ritchey investigates the city’s shrinking tree cover"

  16. hey michele, hang in there until you can't seems to be the whole point of survival. i keep wondering when people are going to start noticing that the trees IN JULY have thinned out, gone sclerotic or just show patches of limp, lifeless leaves among a lot of dead. i'm seeing the air pollution affecting bushes and ground plants now. What really bothers me is i know this stuff but still participate in its destruction every day just because i live in this society. i'm the biggest hypocrite going, on top of recognizing that NTE is just a few years off (at least a big step down). i'm a functioning depressed person. i want to stop mowing the lawn and pulling weeds but neighborhood pressure keeps you doing this insane activity! JUST LET NATURE BE! But no. None of it matters - no matter what i "do" besides sit there and breathe, it harms the environment in one way or another. i feel like a prisoner.



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