12 03 2017

It’s the Cold War all over again. Americans left and right are being accused of taking orders and money from, being the tools of, or at least harboring sympathy for, a miraculously resurrected Evil Empire headquartered in Moscow. If the accusers actually controlled the government, no doubt the political show trials would begin. The accusers–elements of our security apparatus, neo-conservatives associated with the infamous “Project for a New American Century,” virtually the entire Democratic Party, and their allies in the mainstream media–are  using the highly manipulable court of public opinion to find anyone who dissents from their doctrine of Russophobia guilty of the treasonous crime of Russophilia, as if it were some even worse perversion of pedophilia. Their aim appears to be to regain control of the government. They consider this a legitimate counter-revolution. Others call it a coup, American style.

“It’s simple,” the Democrats and their allies say. “If we take over again, everything will be fine.”

It’s not simple, and things wouldn’t be fine if the Democrats were running things, but let’s leave “if the Democrats were running things” alone for now. It’s mind-bendingly complicated, because to truly understand what’s going on in America now requires that we be free of the conditioning most Americans accept unquestioningly–and I’m not talking air conditioning, although that is a luxury that most Americans take far too for granted. I’m talking about mind conditioning–the way we subliminally learn to perceive reality by taking cues from our parents and our culture as we grow up.

As we grow up, and all through our lives, we spend a lot of time absorbing stories from movies, television, and books, and all those stories share certain common elements. There’s a hero, who is clearly a hero, at least in the end, and the hero is not you, although of course you identify with her or him. There’s a villain, and the villain’s identity is usually clear from the beginning. The hero and the villain clash, and, although the villain seems to be winning at first, the hero ultimately triumphs, and all the most pivotal moments in that struggle can be captured in an hour, or two, or maybe longer if it’s a TV series. These are the expectations we then project on real-world events.

But real-world events are not the movies, or even a long-running TV series. In real life, it is extremely rare for anyone to be a complete hero or a complete villain. I’m not, and you probably understand that you’re not 100% hero–or villain–either. Even sociopaths and psychopaths occasionally do the right thing. Well-intentioned people do terrible things. Think about it–doesn’t everybody believe their intentions are good? You betcha. What political figures do as a result of their good intentions may look good to millions of people, and simply awful to millions of others, and it can be difficult to determine in the short run just what “the greater good” really is. It can also be glaringly obvious what does or does not constitute “the greater good,” whether there are millions of people who understand what’s really going on, or just a few. Reality is not determined by popular vote. And, of course, political figures also do things for concealed, strategic reasons, and lie to the public about their motivation. As I said, it’s complicated.

So, with that in mind, I want to examine the history of what some are already referring to as “the new Cold War,” and see how the mainstream American story of what’s going on holds up under scrutiny. Read the rest of this entry »


9 01 2016

In December, the 21st “Council of Parties” to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change took place in Paris. Almost everybody seemed to understand that we are in “no more fooling around” territory, with some notable exceptions, like, f’rinstance, India and Saudi Arabia. Ironically, these are two of the countries with the most to lose from further climate change–like, their inhabitability.  Even so, it has become common knowledge that climate change denialism has largely been, um, fuelled by oil companiesbig-oil-the-new-big-tobacco-29081 who did the research in the 70’s and 80’s and, like the tobacco companies before them, realized that their product was lethal, and who nonetheless chose to elevate their short-term bottom line over the long-term survival of not just their customers, as with the tobacco companies, but of the human race, along with most other species on the planet. I could be snide and sneer about the oxymoronic quality of the phrase “corporate ethics,” but it’s not just corporations that prioritize reaping short-term benefits over preventing long-term threats.  It’s a fairly common human trait, it turns out, and one that is plaguing our efforts to stop doing things that release more carbon and accelerate climate change, and to start doing things that will capture carbon and reverse our ever more tightly spiralling spin into planetary oblivion. In order to reverse climate change, we must reverse our own conditioned responses.  The outer depends on the inner, as always.

Read the rest of this entry »


4 12 2012

There’s a story making the rounds of the mainstream media these days, frequently trumpeted as “International Energy Agency says U.S. to overtake Saudis as  top oil producer.”  This may, technically, turn out to be true. But, as they say, “The devil is in the details,” and in this case, there’s definitely a Hell’s worth of details behind that headline that are all too frequently overlooked in this, our oil-based culture’s cargo cult moment.

“Cargo  cults,” to refresh your memory, were a religious movement that flourished briefly in the South Pacific after World War II.  The natives, who had been living a largely neolithic existence, saw that our troops came in, built an airstrip, and then airplanes landed, bringing all kinds of wondrous things, never before imagined, to the island, and the islanders.  Then,when the war was over, the mysterious strangers packed up and left, the airplanes no longer arrived bearing their magical cargoes,and the airstrips grew up in brush.  Some of the natives thought that, if they just rebuilt the airstrips, the planes would come again.  So they tried it, but it didn’t work, at least not directly, although the brief peak of our now-declining civilization has, in fact, brought the airplanes–bearing tourists, not soldiers, this time–back to many of those once-isolated tropical isles.

But no such temporary relief awaits us.  In fact, the granting of our wish for the oil age to continue bears such a horrific price tag that it’s a sad wonder that most people seem all too willing to buy it.  I’m going to examine the thorns of this “petroleum rose,” and, I hope, push the chorus of voices crying “DON’T TAKE THAT DEAL!!” to a volume level that just might save us from the fraudulent, Faustian  fracking bargain. Read the rest of this entry »


9 09 2012

People are starting to notice that the weather is getting weird.  It’s drier than it’s ever been, it’s wetter than it’s ever been, it’s hotter than it’s ever been, and here and there it’s still getting colder than it’s ever been, or at least snowing, more than it ever has.  I’ll explain that in a moment.

The most ominous changes are taking place where few of us witness them–in the Arctic Ocean and the thinly inhabited, long-frozen lands surrounding it.  This year, the Arctic ice shelf has shrunk more than it ever has before, even before it reaches its maximum shrinkage point in mid-September.  The dark, open Arctic Ocean is absorbing more heat than it has in millenia, warming the Arctic still further.  Just a few years ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change thought the Arctic might be ice-free in the summer by the end of this century.  Now it’s looking more like that historic event will happen by the end of this decade.

The arctic’s warming is a strong driver for our freakier weather.  The one characteristic that unites all the different modes–rain, drought, heat, cold–is that they are moving much more slowly than we are used to seeing weather move.  Tropical Storm Beryl lingered for days over Florida.  Hurricane Isaac inched its way through Louisiana and up the Mississippi Valley. Super-hot temperatures roasted the Western and Central U.S. for weeks without relief.

The driver, or lack of one, in all these cases is the diminishing temperature difference between the Arctic and the rest of the planet.  Here’s how George Monbiot describes this new weather pattern:

The north polar jet stream is an air current several hundred kilometres wide, travelling eastwards around the hemisphere. It functions as a barrier, separating the cold, wet weather to the north from the warmer, drier weather to the south. Many of the variations in our weather are caused by great travelling meanders – or Rossby waves – in the jet stream.

Arctic heating,… both slows the Rossby waves and makes them steeper and wider. Instead of moving on rapidly, the weather gets stuck. Regions to the south of the stalled meander wait for weeks or months for rain; regions to the north (or underneath it) wait for weeks or months for a break from the rain. Instead of a benign succession of sunshine and showers, we get droughts or floods. During the winter a slow, steep meander can connect us directly to the polar weather, dragging severe ice and snow far to the south of its usual range. This mechanism goes a long way towards explaining the shift to sustained – and therefore extreme – weather patterns around the northern hemisphere.

And how are our governments and the businesses that drive them responding to this alarm bell?  They are treating the retreat of the ice as if it were the opening of a treasure trove, and rushing in after the quantities of fish and fossil fuels that now lie exposed for exploitation.  Their only concern seems to be how many fish they can catch before oil spills decimate the piscene population.  They seem heedless of, the possibility of waking the fire-breathing dragon who guards this hoard.

For not all the fossil fuels coming to the surface in the Arctic are under human control. as Albert Bates reports.   As the North Polar region of our planet warms and melts, enormous quantities of methane are starting to seep to the surface, and the amount of methane entering the atmosphere is, apparently, snowballing, so to speak.  A decade ago, the typical methane seep was perhaps a few meters across; now areas as big as a kilometer in diameter are commonplace, both on land and at sea.  The average methane level of the Arctic atmosphere is the highest it has been in 400,000 years.  Four hundred thousand years ago is about when humans first started making our own fires.  This is not exactly a digression–we may be about to ignite much, much bigger fires. Read the rest of this entry »


9 10 2008

There was a a big flurry of polar exploration this summer, because for the first time in a hundred and twenty-five thousand years, it was possible to sail all the way around the Arctic Ocean.  Shipping companies loved it, but the scientific community said it indicates that our planet’s Arctic ice cap is “entering a death spiral,” as the darker seas absorb more heat and the ice melts even faster.

This is not just bad news for polar bears and Inuit.  The warming ocean has triggered methane releases from the ocean floor.  Ships sailing north of Siberia reported methane levels one hundred times normal background, with methane bubbling up over tens of thousands of square kilometers.

What we  don’t know is whether the current methane leakage is going to remain constant or whether it’s the trickle before the dam breaks.  The methane on the ocean floor is held in place by a layer of permafrost, and scientists think the methane is currently bubbling to the surface through “small holes.”  The coming winter may refreeze the ocean floor permafrost, but even if it does, the ice in this summer’s holes will be weaker ice, just as much of the ice that reformed on the Arctic Ocean last winter after 2007’s record meltoff is weaker than the cover that it replaced, which in many cases was thousands of years old.

If the “dam breaks” we will have a massive release of methane, which is likely to raise the planet’s average temperature by ten degrees or more, well past the point where much of it will be habitable by humans or anything else too big to stay under a rock during the day.  You think the current drought and heat wave in the Sahara-Sahel-Darfur-Somalia area is bad?  You think there’s refugees and fallout and blowback?  Wait till the Himalayas melt off and Asia goes dry! You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

Meanwhile, Al Gore has called for civil disobedience to prevent new coal plants from being built, and Greenpeace protestors in England have been acquitted of all charges in closing down a coal plant in England on the grounds that

they were acting to safeguard property elsewhere around the world “in immediate need of protection” from the impacts of climate change driven in part by emissions from coal burning. (New York Times)

Meanwhile, both Obama and McCain continue to endorse the chimera called “clean coal,” conveniently ignoring a number of inconvenient truths:  number one, that there is no functional technology for purifying or sequestering coal emissions; number two, that much coal is mined by an extremely destructive process called mountaintop removal, aka strip mining, number three, that China is now importing coal from the US, and, due to our bad balance of payments and how much we owe the Chinese, we are not in a good position to say “no” to them; and, finally, that the Chinese are building coal plants at a tremendous clip, one that could offset every conservation move made in the West.

In short, it’s looking more and more like mankind is hitting an evolutionary dead end:  we are clever enough to screw things up really badly, but not wise enough to change our destructive behavior.  It may be time to find or dig a nice, deep cave and figure out how to build one of those stillsuits they had in Dune.  Spice, anyone?

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, “Unsustainable

…and the points just keep on tipping

13 01 2007

In the Canadian Arctic, a chunk of ice the size of Manhattan has broken away from Ellesmere Island, where it has been frozen for at least three thousand years. This actually happened in the summer of 2005, but wasn’t noticed until just recently, when somebody studied the satellite photos and said, “omigawd!” Up until 2005, there had been constant sea ice pressure against Ellesmere’s north shore, which is only about five hundred miles from the North Pole, but open water that year gave the coastal ice a chance to break loose. It took about an hour for the 120-foot thick chunk to go from “same as it ever was” to floating free, and then a day or two for it to cross a few miles of open water and become enmeshed in the sea ice offshore. There is a possibility that in the next few years this 27-square mile giant iceberg’s course will cause it to collide with oil platforms in the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska, which are built to withstand normal sea ice and storms but not a monster chunk like this. Just what we need, another Arctic oil spill, eh? Canada has lost about 90% of its shelf ice in the last hundred years, according to Wikipedia. Ah, the myth of global warming….

And, speaking of sudden collapse, researchers in Alaska have found that much of the permafrost there has warmed to nearly the freezing point. When permafrost thaws, massive quantities of methane and carbon dioxide are released, and the ground collapses, which is a real problem for areas with western-civilization-style infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and modern buildings. Of course, this is happening all across the Arctic, and its ramifications are being felt in Europe, for example, where last year was the warmest year on record—not just by a little, but by record amounts, according to researchers.

While this isn’t the first time this has happened, research into the last time it happened is not reassuring. The last time our planet endured such an abrupt swing in climate was fifty-five million years ago, when some kind of carbon or methane burp heated the planet up about nine degrees for nearly a hundred thousand years. Nine degrees may not sound like much, but it was enough to make the North Pole “just like Miami, “ according to one scientist. Hey, there’s some great beachfront property on Ellesmere Island that’s just come open…but seriously, it caused mass extinctions, albeit ones that resulted in us being here as we are today. The next roll of the dice may not be so lucky for us.

music: Waterboys, “wind in the wires


Very frightening… (A very well-written post, btw.)
Posted by lonna on 01/14/2007 10:23:16 PM


11 09 2005

Last month I told you about snowballing (if you’ll excuse the expression) methane escape rates from the thawing arctic permafrost. This month brings news that the planet’s accelerating release of greenhouse gasses is not confined to the tundra. A group of scientists at Cranfield University, in England, has been studying soil CO2 levels for the last 25 years, and has discovered that, evidently due to a warming climate (which increases the level of biological activity), England’s soil has released thirteen million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which more than offsets the estimated twelve point seven million tons of carbon that has been prevented from entering the atmosphere due to antipollution measures.

Guy Kirk, the leader of the study, said, “It’s a feedback loop. The warmer it gets, the faster it is happening,” Just like what’s happening in the tundra, friends.

Last month I pointed out to you that the rate of carbon release into the atmosphere from human activity is like having seventeen thousand active volcanoes going on the planet. With this discovery, that number probably just jumped by a few thousand.

Asked if there was anything that could be done to stop this, Ian Bradley, another scientist involved in the study, said, “If we were prepared to turn all of arable England back to trees, that would work – but there’s no realistic possibility of that.”

Recent studies have indicated that pine tree farms, touted as a cure for rising CO2 levels, are not nearly as effective as mixed hardwood forests in sequestering CO2, due to the greater biodiversity in natural hardwood forests.

The scientists also noted that the escape of carbon dioxide from the soil would eventually lower soil fertility, but said that so far there has been no sign of that.

This study only measured what is happening in England, but England is merely a representative sample for something that is a worldwide phenomenon, and not one that is limited to plowed or otherwise disturbed ground, as was previously thought.

The very earth beneath our feet is rising up against our reckless ways. It’s too late to completely avert disaster, although a concerted effort might slow our fall. But this ride is out of control, and it’s going to get more out of control before it slows down. The apocalypse is here, folks. Don’t forget to be good to each other.


13 08 2005

Here’s a story, verbatim, from New Scientist magazine:
Climate Warning as Siberia Melts
By Fred Pearce
Thursday 11 August 2005
The world’s largest frozen peat bog is melting. An area stretching for a million square kilometres across the permafrost of western Siberia is turning into a mass of shallow lakes as the ground melts, according to Russian researchers just back from the region.
The sudden melting of a bog the size of France and Germany combined could unleash billions of tonnes of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.
The news of the dramatic transformation of one of the world’s least visited landscapes comes from Sergei Kirpotin, a botanist at Tomsk State University, Russia, and Judith Marquand at the University of Oxford.
Kirpotin describes an “ecological landslide that is probably irreversible and is undoubtedly connected to climatic warming”. He says that the entire western Siberian sub-Arctic region has begun to melt, and this “has all happened in the last three or four years”.
What was until recently a featureless expanse of frozen peat is turning into a watery landscape of lakes, some more than a kilometre across. Kirpotin suspects that some unknown critical threshold has been crossed, triggering the melting.
Western Siberia has warmed faster than almost anywhere else on the planet, with an increase in average temperatures of some 3 °C in the last 40 years. The warming is believed to be a combination of man-made climate change, a cyclical change in atmospheric circulation known as the Arctic oscillation, plus feedbacks caused by melting ice, which exposes bare ground and ocean. These absorb more solar heat than white ice and snow.
Similar warming has also been taking place in Alaska: earlier this summer Jon Pelletier of the University of Arizona in Tucson reported a major expansion of lakes on the North Slope fringing the Arctic Ocean.
The findings from western Siberia follow a report two months ago that thousands of lakes in eastern Siberia have disappeared in the last 30 years, also because of climate change (New Scientist, 11 June, p 16). This apparent contradiction arises because the two events represent opposite ends of the same process, known as thermokarsk.
In this process, rising air temperatures first create “frost-heaves”, which turn the flat permafrost into a series of hollows and hummocks known as salsas. Then as the permafrost begins to melt, water collects on the surface, forming ponds that are prevented from draining away by the frozen bog beneath. The ponds coalesce into ever larger lakes until, finally, the last permafrost melts and the lakes drain away underground.
Siberia’s peat bogs formed around 11,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age. Since then they have been generating methane, most of which has been trapped within the permafrost, and sometimes deeper in ice-like structures known as clathrates. Larry Smith of the University of California, Los Angeles, estimates that the west Siberian bog alone contains some 70 billion tonnes of methane, a quarter of all the methane stored on the land surface worldwide.
His colleague Karen Frey says if the bogs dry out as they warm, the methane will oxidise and escape into the air as carbon dioxide. But if the bogs remain wet, as is the case in western Siberia today, then the methane will be released straight into the atmosphere. Methane is 20 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide.
In May this year, Katey Walter of the University of Alaska Fairbanks told a meeting in Washington of the Arctic Research Consortium of the US that she had found methane hotspots in eastern Siberia, where the gas was bubbling from thawing permafrost so fast it was preventing the surface from freezing, even in the midst of winter.
An international research partnership known as the Global Carbon Project earlier this year identified melting permafrost as a major source of feedbacks that could accelerate climate change by releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. “Several hundred billion tonnes of carbon could be released,” said the project’s chief scientist, Pep Canadell of the CSIRO Division of Marine and Atmospheric Research in Canberra, Australia.

That’s the article. As I researched this topic, I found that methane hotspots similar to the ones mentioned here have been observed in the Arctic Ocean by satellites. This is very bad news, people, because while we could control our own carbon emissions if we had the political will to do so (and by the way, the amount of carbon our civilization is putting into the atmosphere is the equivalent of 17,000 good-sized volcanoes erupting continuously), methane releases are not something we can readily stop. They have a momentum of their own—even if we miraculously quit ALL fossil fuel use NOW, they will go on releasing greenhouse gasses, warming the planet, setting the stage for more methane releases and more warming.
And what happens when massive amounts of methane get released into the atmosphere? Let’s look at the record—and not just the fossil record, although that is where a lot of the evidence lies.
For starters, we can look at Lake Nyos in Cameroun, which emitted a cloud of methane and carbon dioxide in 1996 and killed 1800 people who lived along its shore.
Looking further back in history, many researchers believe the Permian extinction, 250 million years ago, in which 95% of all life on the planet was killed, involved a massive release of methane at the end of a glacial era. After that, life barely had a foothold on this planet for the next five hundred thousand years; it took twenty to thirty million years for coral reefs and forests to recover; and it was nearly a hundred million years until some parts of the planetary ecosystem regained their former diversity.
More recently, there was apparently a big burp (to be polite) of methane about fifty-five million years ago, which caused the climate to warm up by about ten degrees for nearly a hundred thousand years. It apparently took about a thousand years to warm up that time, but there is no telling whether that will be the case this time or not. We have entered unknown territory. During that warming period, much sea life died off due to deoxygenation of the water, and many large land animals died off—possibly because they couldn’t adapt to the heat. This is the time period during which redwood trees were growing in northern Greenland.
But the Bush junta doesn’t want to deal with global warming. They’re say that it will put a crimp in the economy, aka their ability to get richer and maintain control. I got news, George. The planet is hemmoraging methane, and it’s going to blow your money economy away. All your petty little political concerns—and mine–control of the oil fields and the courts and the press and the stock market, all our little piles of toys are about to be declared meaningless. I guess we’d better enjoy them while they last, George. The final bell has begun to toll.

%d bloggers like this: