Friday, April 1, 2016

Earth Embalmed

There are so many calamities - fish kills in Florida and birds falling out of the skies, epic floods and droughts, the slowing of the ocean currents - that when I prepared the 26th Dispatch From The Endocene I left out a major incident I had intended to include - the abrupt and near total coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.  The fact that it is just one item on the roster of grotesque environmental disasters that will catalyze NO change whatsoever in the engine of human civilization - even though it has to be the most egregious, most atrocious, most stunningly heinous example of anthropogenic ecocide - is astonishing. It is proof, were any to be needed, that nothing - nothing, not an ice free Arctic, not a huge ice shelf breaking off Antarctica raising sea levels a foot in a week, not thousands of deaths in a heat wave, not storms so violent they lift boulders from the bottom of the sea - NOTHING will stop people from availing themselves blindly and greedily to the bounteous largess of Earth...until it is all gone, and there is none left.  The debacle in the reef is the latest example of humanity ceaselessly rendering the biosphere into a morgue.  It’s as awful as though all the forests were dying, and we managed to ignore it.

Oh, wait.

Following is the transcript for the April 1, 2016 broadcast, and no, sadly, it’s not a joke.  You can listen to it streaming at the Extinction Radio website tonight, where it will be archived with the rest of the show, or listen here.

Thanks as always Gene, and welcome listeners to the 26th Dispatch From the Endocene.

Even in the best of times, people search for meaning and crave a sense of purpose in their lives.  It seems a very human trait to wonder who we are and why we are here, effectively alone as we drift through the universe.  So often, we find ourselves helpless victims to the incoherent caprice of nature, and it is difficult to find the stability we desire when we are buffeted by forces we cannot control.  Sometimes we respond with despair, and sometimes with hope, when we are confronted with the randomness and cruelty of an arbitrary fate.

How much more difficult is it then, to contemplate the irrevocable loss of species due to our own actions, not to say our own extinction from relentless destruction and pollution.  The prospect of human extinction lays waste to all philosophy and faith that places humanity at the center of cosmic consciousness, and posits existence beyond materialism.  How can we respond when we acknowledge the shrapnel of our explosive growth has rendered the biosphere unsalvageable?  In the midst of ever more evidence of horrifically accelerating climate change, from melting Antarctica and sea level rise to the lack of any remaining carbon budget, the ecological tipping points are fast receding into the past.  We have entered a phase of universal, rancid toxicity in the air, water and soil, ultimately to become inhospitable to all but the most intrepid simple organisms.

The conundrum of being authentic in a contrived system has always been absurd, and for many who are aware of the ubiquitous ominous trends it becomes an insurmountable task to detect joy in face of the Tragedy of the Commons.  That parable is one of the most potent descriptions of how intractable the plight of humanity has become, now that we are suffocating and squeezed on this fragile, finite beleaguered planet.  The interests of the individual must eventually doom the entire community, and then of course the individual with it.

In 1651 Thomas Hobbes published Leviathan, where he wrote “…in the first place, I put forth a general inclination of all mankind a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death.”

The response as formulated by Albert Camus still resonates; make your own meaning.  Find what you love to do, and do it.  In these times careening towards collapse of many sorts, I would add, bear witness.  It is a futile act, but I feel it is my moral obligation to the life we are consuming…and I don’t know what else to do.

So this Dispatch is going to consist of acknowledging some events and issues that deserve to be known, starting with the absolute inevitability of human extinction.  All of the links will be posted on my blog, Wit’s End.  It will be illustrated with the art of Ruud Van Empel.  I first saw his work on a Facebook post, accompanied by fatuously enthusiastic endorsements from commenters who were certain that the ridiculously large lotus leaves are from an actual, idyllic forest on a Caribbean island.

Suspecting there was something more enigmatic being communicated (albeit too esoteric for the average face booker), I looked him up and discovered a fascinating hyper-realist whose digital collage photographs were described by one critic as “the subtle undermining of true Paradise”.  Another observed:  “Everything is so consistently, motionlessly, too beautiful to be true that it seems immediately suspicious and perhaps even threatening.  Ruud van Empel makes technically perfect use of these ambiguities.”  Look carefully at the mask of serenity and you will find themes of innocence and historic guilt, exploitation and redemption, wilderness and artifice.

Probably one of the most important and penetrating articles that will be swiftly forgotten was published in, of all places, Climate Network News.  With the ominous title, “Renewable energy demands the undoable”, the article discusses a study called “The 21st century population-energy-climate nexus” published in the journal Energy Policy.  This analysis decisively shatters the fairytale that humanity can power modern civilization with renewable energy in anything like the timeframe required to spare us from utterly catastrophic climate change. Right now nearly 1/5 of the world’s population lives without access to electricity yet, we need to reduce emissions immediately.  Currently renewables are only a tiny portion of the mix - just 10.3% of electricity and that’s including hydropower, a highly damaging source.  Obviously, all transport is almost completely dependent on burning fuel.

This is the sort of factual reality that climate crusaders don’t want to hear, because it completely refutes the ability of their idol, new technology, to save the day and enable industrial civilization to continue - never mind extend to those people who have yet to enjoy its benefits, equivocal though they may be.

The study echoes and reinforces the conclusions made by Ozzie Zehner, the author of “Green Illusions”.  In an interview from 2013, he was quoted as follows:

“The modern environmental movement has rolled over to become an outlet for loggers, energy firms and car companies to plug into. It is now primarily a social media platform for consumerism, growth and energy production - an institutionalized philanderer of green illusions. If you need evidence, just go to any climate rally and you’ll see a strip mall of stands for green products, green jobs and green energy. These will do nothing to solve the crisis we face, which is not an energy crisis but rather a crisis of consumption.”

“There is an impression that we have a choice between fossil fuels and clean energy technologies such as solar cells and wind turbines. That choice is an illusion. Alternative energy technologies rely on fossil fuels through every stage of their life. Alternative energy technologies rely on fossil fuels for mining operations, fabrication plants, installation, ongoing maintenance and decommissioning. Also, due to the irregular output of wind and solar, these technologies require fossil fuel plants to be running alongside them at all times. Most significantly, alternative energy financing relies on the kind of growth that fossil fuels drive.

In his book of philosophy “Straw Dogs”, John Gray wrote in 2007:  “The destruction of the natural world is not the result of global capitalism, industrialisation, “Western civilisation” or any flaw in human institutions. It is a consequence of the evolutionary success of an exceptionally rapacious primate. Throughout all of history and prehistory, human advance has coincided with ecological devastation.”

This brings us to the latest example of celebrity hypocrisy, in which Jeff Bridges stars in a video urging a reduction in the use of disposable plastic products with an emphasis on shopping bags, water bottles and straws.  Somewhat disingenuously, the emphasis is on "single-use" plastic, as though the earth cares how many times plastic is used before it enters the landfill and ocean for eternity. Not to mention, that the footprint of replacements like metal water bottles isn’t insignificant either.  Coincidentally or perhaps due to some internet spying algorithm, after I watched that video a link popped up on my home page urging me to check out Jeff Bridge’s “magnificent home beyond stunning” which turns out to be an obscenely enormous mansion full of expensive furniture, carpets and paintings each one of which, I am certain, was delivered swathed in protective single use plastic wrapping.

Meanwhile, a post-mortem on thirteen stranded whales found they were emaciated, their stomachs full of plastic, and a study finds that we all, especially the adventurous nature-loving campers, hikers, skiers, and other outdoor enthusiasts among us, are sending 2,000 plastic microfibers into the water system every time we wash one article of fleece clothing…and indeed fleece and Gore-Tex clothing is the biggest source of the more than 100 million particles of microplastic being deposited via wastewater into the fiord from a community of a mere 2,000 on the island of Svalbard.  100 million particles.  EVERY DAY.

Hungry killer whales are looking for the salmon they usually eat off the shores of the Pacific Northwest at this time of year, but they’re not finding any.  At the mouth of the Columbia River spring chinook are at around 1% of their historic numbers, and 96% of sockeye died before finishing their journey up the Snake River last year.  In March it was reported that a massive algae bloom killed 23 million salmon in Chile.  “Oceana, an environmental group in Chile, says the problem has been made worse by nitrate-rich runoff from livestock from nearby land around the salmon farms, which are typically offshore or in estuaries.”

And small wonder.  “Nitrogen fertilizer applied to farmers fields has been contaminating rivers and lakes and leaching into drinking water wells for more than 80 years. The study, published this week in a special issue of the journal Environmental Research Letters, reveals that elevated nitrate concentrations in rivers and lakes will remain high for decades, even if farmers stop applying nitrogen fertilizers today.  The researchers have discovered that nitrogen is building up in soils, creating a long-term source of nitrate pollution in ground and surface waters.”

Lastly I would like to make a few remarks about our corroded trees and embalmed forests.  Of course, we continue the tradition of chopping trees down, either for their lumber or to make room for so-called development or mining.  The Atlantic magazine has a shocking layout of images in an article titled “The Violent Remaking of Appalachia”, which is well worth a visit.  Recently it has been reported that over the objections of many in the public, the government of Poland is going ahead with plans to raze parts of Europe’s last primeval forest.  The article says “It is home to 20,000 animal species, including 250 types of bird and 62 species of mammals—among them Europe’s largest, the bison.

...Europe’s tallest trees, firs towering 50 metres high (164 feet), and oaks and ashes of 40 metres, also flourish here, in an ecosystem unspoiled for more than 10 millennia.”  The government claims they have to log it to protect the trees that haven’t yet been infested with beetles…and in this instance they might not be lying.

Biotic attacks are epidemics everywhere in the world.  The UK Guardian reports that between a disease and a beetle, the ash tree is likely to be “wiped out” in the UK and Europe and separately, that a disease with a “massive list of different host plants” is mutating and migrating.  “First confirmed in Europe three years ago when it ran rampant across olive plantations in southern Italy, a subspecies of Xylella has since been detected in southern France, where it has destroyed vines and lavender plants, and in Corsica. Xylella fastidiosa has also been found in both South and North America where it is commonly referred to as “phony peach disease” and where it has caused severe damage to citrus and coffee plantations. In New Jersey it has attacked more than a third of the state’s urban trees.”

Over in Hawaii a previously unknown fungus is decimating that state’s most iconic tree, the Ohia.  One article says, “In 2012, diseased ohia covered about 2,300 acres in Puna. By 2014, dead ohia littered more than 15,000 acres of pristine rainforest. The disease was marching across the island of Hawaii, uncontained.”

If you want to see truly harrowing documentation of forest decline, check a video at the site Ready For Wildfire where you can learn about the bark beetle in California.  There are some interesting facts there about the 29 million trees that have died in this four year drought and 58 million more suffering from “severe canopy water losses”.  It says, “Ponderosa pine, Jeffrey pine, and pinyon pines are most impacted by bark beetles, but many trees have died just from lack of water in the current drought. Most other pine species, white fir and incense-cedar are also heavily impacted by the prolonged drought and by bark beetles. There is also an increase in tree mortality among oaks, although it is primarily attributed to drought, not bark beetles.”

Maps of mortality by year can be seen at the state government Tree Mortality Viewer [click on continue at the bottom of the page].  Interestingly, there is almost no documented dieback in their earliest graphic from 2012, yet, when I visited California before that, it was quite obvious to me that the trees were in serious decline already.  The bark beetle faqs page states:  “Under normal conditions, bark beetles renew the forest by killing older trees and those weakened by disease, drought, smog or physical damage.”

Exactly.  Beetles are opportunistic, preying on trees weakened by pollution, just like all the fungus and disease rampant in the world today.  A thirteen-year study in China determined that smog-creating nitrogen emissions in the atmosphere are causing a “silent massacre” of the entire world’s forests.

Seattle meteorologist Cliff Mass posted a blog warning about the dangers of falling trees.  He stated “During virtually every major windstorm that has hit our region, someone has died from a falling branch or trunk,” and went on with the assumption that it is perfectly normal for that to occur.  IT IS NOT.  The trees are dying; that is why they are falling on people and killing them.  In one article about a death in New Hampshire just this week, it was stated that in wind gusts at the highest 46 mph, a tree killed a man in his truck, adding “The tree did not seem to be rotted”. This was an idiotic statement since anyone looking at the pictures that accompany the article can see that, indeed the trunk was black with rot.

Unfortunately, it seems that almost the only people who realize our trees are being poisoned are convinced that it is from a chemtrail conspiracy, or radiation of some sort.  You can watch one woman, in South Carolina, demonstrate how pathetically sick they are in her neighborhood.

The New Internationalist published an article by Chris Rose in 1988 in which he discusses “tree blindness”.  I will let him have the last word on what is happening to our forests, and why still, nothing is being done about it, with some excerpts.  He gave it the simple title:

The Forest is Dying

“In conifer trees the needles fall years early, often first turning a sickly yellow indicating a shortage of essential metals such as magnesium. As the decline progresses the tree loses its ability to feed itself through photosynthesis (because the leaf area is reduced) and in its weakened state falls victim to diseases. In deciduous species such as the beech and oak the pattern is similar. Official surveys show that over half of Britains broadleaved trees have lost a quarter or more of their leaf area. In fact Britains oak and beech are probably the most damaged in Europe.

“Like the much-cited canary in the coal-mine, the dying forests are potent indicators of what is to become of us, for the chemicals that cause acid rain also attack people. Water on already slightly acid rocks and sands becomes more acid with pollution, releasing toxic metals such as cadmium, lead, mercury and aluminium. This last, it is claimed, accounts for the high rates of Alzheimers disease (senile dementia) in southern Norway.

“Vehicle exhausts spew out oxides of nitrogen and hydrocarbons which include cancer-inducing chemicals. Diesel is particularly rich in such pollution. Together in the air, these chemicals react in sunlight to form ozone, a substance which is essential outside the atmosphere where it protects the earth from harmful ultra-violet rays. Inside the atmosphere, however, it is a pollutant which eats through leaf-cell walls, making them permeable to acidic rainfall, and leaching out key nutrients. Ozone also attacks the lungs of mammals and birds. The American bald eagle used as a mascot at the Los Angeles Olympics died from lung disease caused by air pollution.”

“…air pollution once concentrated in urban areas is now spread thinly over the previously clean countryside. Ice cores analyzed from the Arctic and Antarctic show that eventually it reaches there too.Only recently have the effects of acid rain on trees begun to be recognized, which may be one reason why the implications of acid rain for humans have not really hit home. As Canadian Gilles Gagnon wrote in 1986: Each year the beauty of the forest is somewhat diminished but one gets used to it and finds it natural to see trees withering along the roadside. The same could be said of almost every country in which the insidious decline has taken hold.

“When the blight first started to be recognized in West Germany, slogans were daubed on the rocks of the worst affected Black Forest hillsides. Do not weep forest, said one, the desert will not last forever. Others referred to the Christmas carol, Oh Tannenbaum, which celebrates the beauty of the silver fir tree, a tree which not only occupies a central place in German folk-mythology but has been hardest hit by waldsterben. Yet within a year or so, the trees were being felled and others planted. After all, they look healthy. The signs were scrubbed from the rocks at the request of the local hoteliers. Acid rain and dying forests, they said, were bad for business. If it couldnt be cured then perhaps it should at least be denied.

“The prospect of a civilization which can happily accept the Black Forest without trees is more than unsettling. On this basis attacks of tree blindness become an act of mass delusion as society turns its back on an apparently insoluble problem. The question is whether we open our eyes before the delusion becomes suicidal.”

I made a video called The Silent War on Trees, which ends with a poem by Stanley Kunitz, written in 1958.

In closing, I’d like to read it.

The War Against the Trees

The man who sold his lawn to standard oil
Joked with his neighbors come to watch the show
While the bulldozers, drunk with gasoline,
Tested the virtue of the soil
Under the branchy sky
By overthrowing first the privet-row.
Forsythia-forays and hydrangea-raids
Were but the preliminaries to a war
Against the great-grandfather of the town,
So freshly lopped and maimed.
They struck again and again,
And with each elm a century went down.
All day the hireling engines charged the trees,
Subverting them by hacking underground
In grub-dominions, where dark summer
’s mole
Rampages through his halls,
Till a northern seizure shook
Those crowns, forcing the giants to their knees.
I saw the ghosts of children at their games
Racing beyond their childhood in the shade,
And while the green world turned its death-foxed page
And a red wagon wheeled,
I watched them disappear
Into the suburbs of their grievous age.
Ripped from the craters much too big for hearts
The club-roots bared their amputated coils,
Raw gorgons matted blind, whose pocks and scars
Cried Moon! on a corner lot
One witness-moment, caught
In the rear-view mirrors of the passing cars.

Thanks for listening.


  1. Geez Gail, you really know how to convey the pain. Your post tears my heart out. By the end, and to answer the final question, I'm afraid it is suicide by delusion. Or 'was' - it takes a long time to kill the biosphere, and it's painful enough to drive us mad, or perhaps that should be stated 'more insane than we've been for far too long.' There will be no "adapting" to what we're facing. Sadly, far too many didn't notice our own life's passing with each dead animal in the road, each cut down tree and every bit of pollution we dumped everywhere.



  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Hello Gail,
    The illustrations on this post are something else.
    The as yet unrealised threat to the beauty of the surrounding natural world from the innocent, demanding eyes of the children is chilling.
    I ended the post not being able to look at them.
    Best wishes

  4. hi my few witsenders,
    ogardener posted this on NBL
    the trees are going very very fast here too. the scientists in the artcle say that they plan to continue their study for many years. They will not have that opportunity. Very unfortunately, ALL the trees are already dead. there is no solution. Certainly not to bring some other pest from foreign country...

    Here in Montreal, there are articles in the papers since a few days saying "they" will CUT tens of thousands of trees urgently. It is all happening now. "They" talk about the emerald ash borer and say only the ash is touched. This is not true. ALL the trees are dying or dead and there will be none left in 5 years.

  5. michele - in the recent wind storm we had down here in PA I saw a nice sized tree that had fallen over in the 50 - 60 mph winds (gusts of 70 reported), exposing a root ball with no attached roots. This is precisely what Gail has been saying - the deleterious action of ozone, nitrogen, etc. in the atmosphere is killing the root systems (ultimately) via poor atmospheric chemistry (too much of our pollution to contend with). So yeah, it's happening all over the world now.

    Colin: I received your message(s) but have no way to contact you at your current email address, since my site for some reason blocks me from sending anything (beyond the first reply - why the #@(& did THAT one work, but no subsequent ones?) - they all come back undeliverable. Could you send me (yes I RECEIVE yours) an alternate address to which I can send my (now 7th) reply please? Thanks for your kind words too. All the best!

    Gail: sorry I had to use your site as a channel for communication with Colin, who's trying to help me with a computer problem. I love your blog and anticipate each new post, and I catch you on the ER podcasts too!


    1. No problem Tom! ER has taken a hiatus, btw, until the fall (at least).

    2. Thanks, Gail, and "gotcha'," Tom. I'll be "in touch" in the very near future.

  6. Gorgeous post, eloquent as always. The artwork and poem amplify the anguish. btw, my eldest is considering college at UC Santa Cruz, as you know a beautiful campus right in the middle of a forest. I keep wondering if they'll chop down all the trees as soon as the first student gets crushed by a fallen redwood. Seems like it's just a matter of time.

    1. I was so worried during youngest daughter's first year as she was in student housing on campus, smack in the middle of a redwood grove. You could touch them from her deck they were so close. Then she moved to a house across from the beach - no trees, just maybe a tsunami! LOL always something. It's a great place to go to college.

  7. Tree falls on car.

  8. I'm sure you've seen this, Gail (hell, you probably ghost wrote the piece . . ):

    Droughts trigger tree ‘heart attacks’

    Research identifying survival traits in different tree species could prove vital in helping to reduce the massive losses caused by heat extremes as the world warms.
    by Tim Radford

    Scientists in the US have identified the factors that make a tree more likely to perish in a drought, after conducting an exhaustive examination of 33 separate scientific studies of tree mortality involving 475 species and 760,000 individual trees.

    The answer they come up with is that the deciding factor is how efficiently trees draw water from the ground to their leaf tips.


  9. Thanks, Tom. I hadn't seen Robin's post, but I left the following comment at the Climate News version (which is awaiting moderation):

    Actually, trees are dying in places that haven’t had drought, as well. They are dying EVERYWHERE because they are absorbing toxic pollution, and they have lost immunity to opportunistic epidemics of insects, disease and fungus. These foresters aren’t going to be able to find trees that can withstand drought, because drought isn’t the primary problem, globally. It’s ozone. As trees decline from absorbing ozone, their roots shrink and their evapotranspiration function fails. Deforestation leads to drought, and we are deforesting the world not only by logging but by killing trees. No wonder CO2 levels are spiking even as anthropogenic emissions slow.

  10. Through making pertinent searches, I now recall having seen this picture of yours somewhere else in some comment section regarding that very special thing that has risen to the upper grades of my theoretical interests, that thing which no serious attempt at imagining the course of future history can dispense with: the prospect of resource scarcity and resource competition on one hand and the very real prospect of human extinction on the other. The former of the two prospects could already be imagined in previous decades and a (very) small number of sharp-eyed observers alluded to it or predicted it. The best example case of a thorough and impressive analysis of the tendencies that will affect the relevant future I can tell of is that of a certain obscure but competent historian and theorist called Panajotis Kondylis who wrote in German and who around the early 1990s predicted in a publication that the 21st century will be inextricably marked by the severe constraints ecological parameters will inevitably place upon the seas of human masses worldwide striving to consume resources and energy as they seek to respond to historical necessities by growing their societies into mass societies and away from agrarianism, with the path to mass societies being the only way to compete and survive in the sophisticated modern world. The implications of this ''globalized'' and universal development (which came about as a product of the competition between the US and the Soviet Union) were evident and according to him there would be no serious way to resolve these grave implications by mitigation, fantastical technology or by political recipes (all of which were near universally taken from granted at the time he was writing given the optimistic hysteria from ecstatic voices over Soviet dissolution and the bright future ahead for a free globe) and that the outcome will be that not far into the 21st century the relatively secure global system would give way to an era marked by constant disorder and incessant global mayhem. He imagined a situation where war and peace will intermingle permanently and instability set to become a lasting state of affairs. The 21st century will be ''the most shocking and tragic chapter in human history'' and the aftermath will leave little in its wake. He also said that the US ''isn't just first truly global superpower but it will also be the last'' with the clear allusion being that society won't ever reach its former glory after its projected collapse.
    The latter of the two prospects I talked about above, namely human extinction itself, more than 20 years later after Kondylis wrote is something we see coming (provided one has eyes to see) much more clearly at this point thanks to certain advances in the knowledge of the science itself and the speed we've seen the situation progressing. The 21st century won't see just the collapse of our global mass society, or just a ''partial return to the animal kingdom'', or ''global cannibalism'' as that author wrote but even more radically human extinction itself.

    1. Al Bartlett said something like the greatest tragedy is the human inability to comprehend the exponential function. Most also don't understand evolution. If they did, it would be obvious to the that collapsing the ecosystem means mass extinction, humans included.

  11. I was late in finding your blog, I should have done so already but I am glad I did. I appreciate among other things, your capacity to steer clear of ideologically-laden scapegoating, or blaming ''capitalism'' etc. and in addition (unlike Mcpherson) to avoid all that philology I personally find distasteful about ''love'', ''teaching'', all that melodrama and sentimentalism, and merely just focus on the news and the science. Although you are a woman and one might expect you'd display a propensity for indulging these mushy things you've proven more ''manly'' in the sense of being sober about the situation and strongly discarding hope and fear.
    Because let's just face it Gail: what's keeping all those who write about global warming from drawing the same or similar nasty conclusions is not any real lack of knowledge or ''evidence'' about it. It is the will to stick by hope. Quoting the same author: ''Hope and fear block insight into human affairs, yet hope is a lot harder to overcome than fear'' and ''Manliness, namely the final abandonment of any hope and any fear is the moral of nihilism''.
    I am in my early 20s but already accepted the reality of where we are going: to the very bottom, and when one falls, one goes neither ''right'' nor ''left'' just straight down. Count me a follower in our collective march towards the precipice of doom.

    1. Thank you so much for your comments and I apologize for the hold-up in moderation, I have been traveling and unable to access.

      I can't tell you how many times I have commented on one blog or article or another, and everyone assumes I am a man. Heh.

  12. michele/montrealMay 3, 2016 at 9:05 AM

    hi top you who are in your early 20s. my hearth is with you. I have been following Gail's blog for quite some time and I live the agony of the trees who are doing very bad here in the city that I never leave. My son in his early 30s living in Vancouver is a very close enlightened companion of mine in this terrifying adventure towards collapse. We share our grief daily and I tell him to make the best of what is left of his life and do crazy things. He visited an exposition lately and here is what he did during his visit:

    1. Thanks for your kindness and your link Michele. I took note. Nice to join your company here.

  13. I am the same guy. Yes Gail, they aren't very familiar with the exponential function except of course when people wish their money multiplied, youtubers more views and subscribers, us men when we're wishing ourselves more lays. In those cases the exponential function is a wet dream (pun intended) but in real life the prospect of ecological collapse is a sobering reality (oh well, it's a matter of taste what one finds sobering) that we've just recently been quite aware of though most commentators are still mild. It's also a reality which we're facing for the first time ever in history despite our record of scoring thousands of years old of sizable impacts on fauna and climate. In my comment here I briefly remark how contrary to what Ehrlich thinks past collapses due to habitat loss didn't exist but the causes of ''collapses'' were primarily political. The yield ratios of crops were just low and sensitive enough to cause widespread starvation as was the case in 1315-17 great famine. Changing climates always played a role in minor events but they were hardly man-driven. And the Easter Island collapse was rat-driven and didn't in itself cause the culture to go extinct. In previous eras scarcity of goods was a permanent condition wherein all politics took place. In our own era where for a short while it seemed (and still seems to most people in affluent regions) that we've surpassed the scarcity of goods, extreme attrition and scarcity of resources will become THE subject of politics itself and that which primarily determines politics rather than a side concern of it. In other words the biological necessities of life are about to swallow politics and the societies that ''political animals'' wallow in, take away from the animals the ''political'' attribute and add to that of just ''animals'' also the attribute dead stinking animals. For that reason no left and no right wisdom will help. All those political ideals represented actual classes in 1848 (and not stupid debates about homosexuals and abortion etc) but today they're obsolete. The future will be a struggle for the survival of nations, a race which no nation can win; in fact the dividing lines of nations will be destroyed in this process and the ''warre'' of all against all will have become a reality. I was just reading your apocalypsi library. I appreciate the humor you have. Living proof that you can be a doomer and still be pleasurable. After all doom is a thrilling affair wouldn't you agree? Just as humor. And also you manage to stick it to Hitchens who said that women are doomed to lack humor. Well, now I can tell a doomer that does have it! You could maybe take the time and check out my 3 comments here, they're by the end of the page under the name ''pjeter''. I shall continue to support. Cause even a humorous doomer can do with some support.

  14. Thanks for your observations, and your support! a sense of humor is essential. (Here is my latest attempt with Benjamin the Donkey: I disagree though that ours is the first civilization to face collapse due to ecological constraints. There have been many others, countless, probably. The Mound People, the Aztecs and Mayans to name a few. These were driven by deforestation leading to droughts leading to the collapse of agriculture and starvation. I tend to think agriculture can be seen as the result of the collapse of hunting and gathering as nomadic tribes overexploited their habitat.


    1. Thanks! I sent the author my usual letter - those trees have been dying for years, but nobody noticed. Trees die slowly. The drought and the beetles just pushed them over the edge to dead, so people can't pretend they are healthy just because they have a few leaves or needles lingering on their branches. :(

  16. I think it's helpful to distinguish between the notions of ''culture'' and ''civilization''. Civilization is a vague notion
    of European modernity (1500s onwards) associated with the concept of ''superior'' civilization. European colonial domination
    of the greatest part of the globe and observations of cultural and anthropological diversity and the relation between
    lord and subject embedded in the European mind the notion of superior civilization due to their being the select bearers of the
    true religion and in the latter phase of modernity (1850s onwards) due to their supposed superior racial stock.
    Culture in the scientific sense (not the folkloric sense which implicitly or explicitly idealizes a specific culture)
    simply designates the active factors (linguistic, genetic, sociological etc.) that characterize an existing group bound by the power of concrete political bonds (political in the aristotelian sense not the modern mass-democratic sense). Culture is shaped by the shifts occasioned by political events, i.e. by lethal and non-lethal power struggles that either take place within the same ''culture'' (e.g. civil war) or between different ''cultures''.
    The latter happened with the Mayas and the Aztecs which the Spanish subjugated. So elements of culture (genetic, lignuistic,
    sociological etc.) started to shift irreversibly. In any case these ''civilizations'' didn't manage to ''disappear'' or ''collapse'' before
    the Spanish arrived. They simply went into overshoot, certain areas experienced heights of political power and cultural
    development and then unraveled due to the decisive impacts of ecological factors. But that wasn't enough for the ''culture''
    to disappear at the time. That could only happen if all the humans there were gone and the impacts weren't strong enough for that. Admittedly though, past cultures were extremely vulnerable to ecological developments. But this vulnerability saved them from the worst. The vagaries of nature could destroy humans quickly enough so that the rate of natural (and human labor) exploitation upon which the proliferation of human life depends could be curtailed and fall back into more ''sustainable'' levels.
    In modern mass societies we don't have that advantage. We were just able to stave off nature for long enough to multiply exponentially before inevitably she will ''bat last''.
    The problem is that we created societies all over the globe that are so finally tuned and based on such delicate sensitivity that once the problems associated with overshoot, energy and resource constrains, the sheer volume of human biomass, ecological degradation,
    radical climatic overheating etc. disturb this fine balance, there will be no escape from human extinction. Human
    prosperity and peace depends on constant war against nature. Once this war is lost when nature ''bats'', a new war emerges, the war of man
    against man. It will not be the war of political entities against other political entities. It is the war of man against
    man or the war of all against all. It is ''total'' war in the most ''total'' sense possible. It's the ultimate nightmare
    and that's the future. ''I've seen the future, it is murder''. These lyrics from Cohen's song sum it up right. We've
    initiated an extinction event. Most life on earth will be vanquished.

    Uff, that was a lot of doom! But at least we don't spook ourselves like Lynas managed to do. We should however rest assured that when the actual thing comes all of us will be scared.

  17. Your presence and your deeply thoughtful and beautiful essays are very much missed in my household. I hope that you are able to once again grace the intertubes with your much needed voice and exposition. You are a singular and unique voice.

    1. Thanks Remonster. I keep saving links I want to post about, but the bad news is so overwhelming, there are more and more before I can even formulate any coherent thoughts. But I appreciate the nudge.