Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Look for loopholes to avoid extinction

Zeger Reyes
A tiny blip in the news media registered the fact that atmospheric carbon dioxide has exceeded four hundred parts per million for the first time in the history of the human species, with no sign of slowing down. Among other things, it means that ocean levels will be going up by at least 30 feet, putting most of the world's major cities underwater. Almost the entire Eastern Seaboard of the United States—the most densely settled strip of land in the country, with the most infrastructure and physical assets—will become uninhabitable. Other countries—Bangladesh, Netherlands, a long list of low-lying island nations—will disappear under the waves entirely.

In other news, the actress Angelina Jolie just had a double mastectomy to make extra-double-sure that she gets to live long and cancer-free. The brave woman has decided to face extinction breastless. I pray that her extinct breasts find peace, if not in this world, then perhaps the next...

Although I am convinced that the environmental predicament is dire, the term “extinction” strikes me as unnecessarily melodramatic. To start with, the fact of its extinction cannot be ascertained by the species going extinct: does the dodo know it's extinct? Does the giant sloth or the wooly mammoth? And could they have ever? No, because they ceased to exist before the fact of their nonexistence could have became known to them. The last human alive will have no idea whether other humans may yet exist in some other part of the planet, and so, to contemplate our own extinction is to pretend that we possess God-like omniscience. Extinction is a thought experiment whose outcome we cannot even test. This makes contemplating our own extinction rather pointless. Why don't we contemplate our own survival instead?

Focusing on the very serious and undeniably real problem of rising ocean levels, there are as yet no solid predictions as to how fast the waters will rise, but if the history of such predictions is any guide, they have a tendency to double with each revision. What's more, the predictions are not even keeping up with reality: not so long ago the talk was of a few inches per century, but then an entire extra foot of water showed up along much of the east coast, and it is now typical to have electrical transformers explode during storm surges, which were supposed to be high and dry but now aren't. It is one of those cases where nature has consistently outpaced all our attempts to account for it.

Rather than being isolated events, such incidents are an indication of what will become a constant drumbeat in people's lives—most people's lives, since most people live along coasts. Suburban neighborhoods will wink out of existence one after another as they flood, losing electricity, water and sewage, and are recognized as a total loss, not worth rebuilding given that the next storm will no doubt cause even greater damage. Some of the environmental refugees will be resettled a bit further inland, in areas not destroyed yet, but washed out roads, collapsed bridges and flooded highway tunnels will derail many such evacuation plans. Desperate people will no doubt attempt to flee to some supposedly better place in another part of the world—to farm the banana belts of Siberia, perhaps, or to raise camels in the Canadian Arctic—but by then cheap airline travel will be a thing of the past, while seaports will be underwater and unusable.

Nature's prescription for those who ruin their habitat is extinction, and it will be your fate too, unless you adapt to life in the new environment. In the new, permanently disrupted habitat, conventional housing is clearly maladaptive. On the other hand, the Dutch, who are accustomed to life in a flood zone and resigned to what's coming, have been building houses on barges for a long time now, tethering them to pilings so that they float up during storm surges. Some further adaptations are obvious: a house in a flood zone is a terrible idea, unless it floats, generates a bit of its own electricity, captures rainwater for drinking and washing, and has a means of propulsion when it's time to take advantage of high water and move to very slightly higher ground. And if it does all these things, then a flood zone is where you'd want to live, because land that is in the process of becoming water is generally free, and there will be more and more of it with each passing hurricane season.

It's about time we started experimenting with such ideas, but unfortunately many of us live in places dominated by various planning nazis and zoning nazis and code nazis, who are supposed to keep us safe (but not from 400ppm+ CO2, which will eventually kill off most of us). And so we have to look for loopholes. Here's one: according to a recent US Supreme Court decision, a houseboat with no independent means of propulsion is no longer a boat but a house, meaning that if you take a trailer (which is not considered real estate) and put it on a barge (which is not considered real estate either) then what you get is real estate. But if you put an outboard motor on the barge and take it for a little cruise around the harbor, it becomes a motor vehicle again.

Now that's a loophole! You can drive a double-wide right through that sucker. And I hope you do. Better yet—wait a few years, and you'll be able to sail it up the Potomac and all the way to the steps of the Supreme Court. You could let your goats graze on the shrubbery there, like the pilgrims used to do on the ruins of the Roman Forum while visiting the graves of the martyrs.

I hope you find some loopholes of your own, and take advantage of them, because it is already clear what the planning board has planned for you and your children: extinction.


Unknown said...

Even among the small minority of us who are willing to try and face these unpleasant realities, I have seen nothing said about the appalling pollution of the oceans which will be a concomitant of rising ocean levels. The people whose coastal properties become ruined will be permitted to abandon them without doing a thing to prevent the mess from dissolving into the ocean water. Imagine millions of properties' worth of household chemicals, paints, insecticides, etc. all mixing into an oceanic witches' brew.

Guy McPherson said...

From Nature Bats Last (http://guymcpherson.com/2013/01/climate-change-summary-and-update/): On a planet 4 C hotter than baseline, all we can prepare for is human extinction (from Oliver Tickell's 2008 synthesis in the Guardian). According to an informed assessment of BP's Energy Outlook 2030, published in January 2013, global average temperature of Earth will hit the 4 C mark in 2030.

Wolfgang Brinck said...

Here in the Oakland/Alameda harbor, marinas have a limit on how many live-aboards each marina can have. Houseboat communities appear to be similarly restricted. But the informal live-aboard communities seem to have no restrictions on them other than staying out of the shipping lanes and moving a hundred feet every so many days. And the Oakland police only has one boat to do enforcement. According to an article in the paper, they have given up enforcing whatever rules there are because enforcement is difficult and a waste of time from their point of view.
Nearby marinas complain of petty theft, disposal of human waste directly into the harbor, drug dealing and so on. However, the unregulated boat communities persist. The downside of these communities is that the boats don't have the conveniences of a marina such as toilet and laundry facilities and access to electricity and water. Still, people are managing. And as you point out, in the not too distant future, there will be more abandoned, seasonally flooded land available for informal support of such boat communities.
In addition to the people who are just moving onto boats and dealing with the consequences as they arise, there are also more formal organizations that are having planning meetings and websites and getting together once a year for on the water camp-outs.

Jacob Gittes said...

With all due respect to Dr. McPherson, I have a quibble with the NTE alarmists.

They could be right, but they are not certainly correct. Science does not deal in certainties: that's been a foible of scientists since scientific orthodoxies started to exist. Newtonian physics blocked relativity, until a critical mass of younger physicists, and a few enlightened older ones, accepted the idea.

Regardless, predictions are simply that, and climate is incredibly complex. There have been cycles of ice-ages in more recent geological history.
Earlier, the earth was so warm that dinosaurs thrived in Antarctica!

We don't really know what kinds of positive and negative feedback loops will come into play. Furthermore, the earth sustained rich, dense life at much higher average global temperatures than exist now, and with much higher levels of C02. I just don't understand how Guy and NTE doomers are so certain of the outcome.

That said, I am certainly not a climate change denier. I just don't think we know what will really happen.

I am fairly certain that whatever happens, it will be devastating for an industrial civilization that depends on the current climate, current shoreline, and current infrastructure. I found Dmitri's article to be very compelling, because he admits that a lot of people will die. The majority simply can't envisage that the world will be radically different in the future than it is now. We've all had the experience of banging our heads against the brick wall of others' denial.

Final point: even if there is a chance of survival through adaptation, as Dmitri recommends, why would you want to sit in a dark corner repeating the NTE chant? I guess it's a valid state of mind, and a valid activity. It just seems rather... non-utilitarian.

Dmitry Orlov said...

Publius -

I think that people are using the term "extinction" metaphorically. Even the Guardian author Guy cites says that +4ºC is "the end of living and the beginning of survival". Amen. I try to use it far more directly: a certain type of human (house-living car-driving office plankton) is going to go extinct. Semi-feral humans living on rafts and shantyboats may yet prevail. Not only do we have too *many* people, but we also have the *wrong kind* of people. As far as your skepticism, the only scientific certainty you'll have is when a post mortem determines that you are dead. The climate, and the ocean level, are changing before our own eyes. All you have to do is to get out there and see for yourself. (Of course, you have to know what you are looking for, which most people don't.)

Jacob Gittes said...


Hey, mon ami, I agree with you. I am not skeptical that climate change is occurring.

Regarding Guy McPherson, I don't believe that he is using Near Term Human Extinction as a metaphor. I have read many of his articles, and frequest his web site. I agree with many of his points, and his journey is compelling. He gave up a tenured position at a major university.

Let me clarify: Guy McPherson claims that he is fairly certain that no humans will survive the upcoming climate catastrophe. He talks about methane gas releases from the arctic leading to a dramatic and non-survivable positive feedback loop, etc. He talks about the futility of trying to change civilization's course, etc.

He is being very literal.
My skepticism was not about climate change and environmental catastrophe, but rather about the claim that the human species, and most other higher organisms, are doomed to extinction.

Skepticism is the basis of real science. There are very few real scientists anymore, since most of them are beholden to the NIH or other sources of government funding. I worked in labs. The modus operandi is: use previous cherry-picked data to write creative grand proposals to get the next dose of money. The recent Obama administration proposal to "map the human brain" is an example of the useless, gargantuan scientific boondoggles that modern science has led to. It's an industry like any other, dedicated to preserving itself, rather than finding "truth," whatever that might be.

You are the consummate skeptic, Dmitri, yet also provide those of us who are skeptical of the reigning paradigm with hope.

Question: have you read many of Guy McPherson's posts and writings?

M said...

Dimitri wrote: "I think that people are using the term 'extinction' metaphorically."

Hmmm. I think at least some people are
using "extinction" straight up, no ice, no chaser.
I can't say I see the appeal in this line of thought. Even if it does come to pass, think how small the earth is in relation to the universe. Which presumably will carry on its business without us just fine. Or does it all disappear with us? Either way, we don't get to find out.

forrest said...

If you want a good look at how bad it can get, an excellent book for the science (and the feel of how it gets worked out in practice) is Michael Benton's When Life Nearly Died. Link:

How bad it could get... no mammal left bigger than a shoebox, or with much more brainpower/specialization than 'if it doesn't move, try to eat some.' Some pretty hopeful lines of protomammals became dinosaur chow because a suitable climate, and vacant niches for large mammals didn't return for a very long time.

William said...

That's an amazing installation piece. I always appreciate the inclusion of great art images with your posts, Dmitri!

Anonymous said...

Howard makes a very good point. Once the shoreland is flooded, unbelievable amounts of toxic materials will be in the water along the shore, at least along the former sites of major cities or industrial facilities. If we don't move the spent fuel rods currently being stored on site at nuclear facilities, we will also introduce radioactive materials into the sea from the nuke plants along the seaboard. I count 11 plants on the Eastern Seaboard, from Brunswick to Florida. http://www.google.com/fusiontables/embedviz?viz=MAP&q=select+col0%2C+col1%2C+col2%2C+col3%2C+col4%2C+col5%2C+col6%2C+col7%2C+col8+from+587899+&h=false&lat=37.43997405227057&lng=24.609375&z=2&t=3&l=col1

All of this will nix attempts to live off of fish or plant life there, it seems, and make life along the new shoreline either unlivable or "endurable" in a short life-span kind of way. The pollution will also affect tidal rivers like the Hudson, killing the usefulness of rivers for food and irrigation. It looks like whatever people "make it," are going to have to be inland a good deal.

Kevin Frost said...

Very helpful, an especially good example of what some would call ‘praxis’ understood here to mean: practical activities clearly informed by a sound theory of what’s really going on can become interesting in unanticipated ways that reflectively enrich prior theory.

The theory in this case concerns human evolution in the sense of adaptation to changing environments as mandated by the basic Darwinian script, but this understood from the perspective of ‘mutual aid’ (as distinct from the more usual Malthusian predatory propensity to genocide). This maritime mobilisation of human community is especially well considered, I think, prompting two attendant points.

One. There are those who compare the decline of Western led industrial civilisation with the latter days of Rome. In those days the survivors were migrating peoples who able to hang together, feed themselves, fight together, and move without attachment to any long held territory. What was fixed fell; what possessed mobility survived.

Two. This spectre of maritime mobility also envisions movement in and out of the communities themselves, such as they may be, an important rider because actually community entails all sorts of inherited cultivations that we simply don’t have. It’s literally been bred out of us or marginalised, left by the wayside generations ago.

What we do have by way of communitarian sensibilities were largely tried in so many ways since the late 60s but not with much success. During the early 70s we formed perhaps about 10,000 ‘back to the land’ endeavours which took a variety of forms, but mainly one of two.

Most were what I would call ‘political associations’ of loosely woven cloth wherein the ideas of personal freedom and equality were our grounding assumptions. For as long as the class enemy (the ‘establishment’) remained clearly in view our ability to achieve cohesiveness and productivity were actually pretty good and we were able to get quite a bit done in spite of our reputation for laziness, dope, sex, cheap thrills and so forth. The real problem arose when the political ‘other’ receded from view and we were left to deal with each other face to face. Then we discovered our own lack of authority, sufficient to restrain the graspings and aggressions of the few who take centre stage and alienate the more moderate, quieter types who actually make the whole thing work.

Otherwise there were spiritual/religious communities generally formed around a charismatic individual who enjoyed general respect. There were less of these but some were able to achieve high degrees of efficiency, organisation and intelligent adaptation to the various problem areas at hand. The downside of these sects was the usual problem of corruption – money, sex, power issues that came up as a matter of course and then succession disputes attending the leaders’ demise.

The grand monuments of Western civilisation, Athens and Jerusalem, cast long shadows.

I’ve long wanted to say to any inclined to listen that our most serious problem is not technology, whether of the advanced or appropriate sorts. There’s something more fundamental and it concerns our ability to just hang in there for the duration and sustain properly human relations with each other and all. This isn’t what we’re bred to do. Our ancestors were, but their cultures have been left behind in favour of entirely different ways of being that are summarised in the idioms of ‘civilisation’. These two do not mix well.

We will not revive these cultivations overnight, if at all. Thus the intelligence of a mobilised conception of adapting to the aftermath of general breakdown and disintegration. The important things take time.

Thanks again, Kevin Frost

R. A. Davies said...

The Arctic Methane Emergency Group has a paper out that states:
"The absolute mean extinction time for the northern hemisphere is 2031.8 and for the southern hemisphere 2047.6 with a final mean extinction time for 3/4 of the earth's surface of 2039.6."

There is no to little time to react.

Yesterday, I attended a presentation by the Kansas Climatologist who gave a reassuring talk with reassuring slides, explaining that the averages indicate that things are a little worse, but not bad enough that we can't adapt. She suggested we all put fluorescent light bulbs in. I, not being the socially restrained person I was since my awakening to the Near Term Extinction, commandeered the question period and peppered her with data that flatly indicates that we better get our asses in gear. She asked what I would I have her do? Go back to being a hunter gatherer? I said, "Let's see. No more industry and getting to live or continuing the planet killer civilization and thus ensuring death. Hmmm. Life or death? Is this a trick question?"

She then posited that scientists must have enough evidence to make such drastic recommendations. I envisioned a decimated planet some years hence, the last scientist peering at his/her data, checking a box and murmuring, "Shit. We should have started ten years ago."


Unknown said...
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StephenH said...

City councils, HOAs, and others need to be educated on sustainable zoning codes and be willing to allow people to build things that will not cause extinction on their lands. Unfourtanely, it will take a lot to achieve this, because choosing a path that will not lead to extinction will require making decisions that aren't the most profitable for the housing, retail, and other developers who want to make a lot of money off of their developments. City councils need to start looking at factors other than money if they want their cities to survive.

Dmitry Orlov said...

StephenH -

... "if they want their cities to survive"... How does a city survive underwater? ... "allow people to build things that will not cause extinction on their lands" Why build anything on land that's going to be underwater?

greatblue said...

A timely report: Natural Disasters Displace 32 Million in 2012. http://www.voanews.com/content/disasters-displaced-13mat13/1659882.html

amfortas the hippie said...

Can one eat Jellyfish?

KC said...

I am quite sure that Guy McPherson is not using extinction metaphorically.

Nor are the folks from the Arctic Methane Emergency Group http://arctic-news.blogspot.com/p/global-extinction-within-one-human.html

And to top off when the grids fail 439 nuclear power plants and their spent fuel pools fail (solar flare, EMP, failed infrastructure or no fuel). http://truth-out.org/news/item/7301-400-chernobyls-solar-flares-electromagnetic-pulses-and-nuclear-armageddon To date we have seen Chernobyl and Fukushima fail but with remediation. In the case of Chernobyl that remediation along with energy and equipment used 500,000 people to accomplish such as it is.

Oh did I mention forest fires with no one putting them out? Forest fires with no one putting the out running over nuclear plants and dumps? Methane so high it might actually ignite in the atmosphere. Wet bulb temps high enough to kill humans just by heat.

Unknown said...

another loophole...
i live in a very unpopular state, and have noted that some of the most unpopular counties, way out in the boondocks, have no zoning laws, nada, which has the downside that the fellow on the next property over can go into the messy business of refubishing pump-jacks, but it also means you can build any sort of 'crazy' thing you want on your own land - a considerable upside...

Gail Zawacki said...

A dispassionate appraisal of amplifying feedbacks should lead any reasonable person to conclude that humans will not survive this episode of climate change. Aside from that, climate change is only a symptom of the deeper problem with our species, which is unbridled growth and consumption.

This thoughtless habit is resulting in other existential threats that, despite the large corporatist denial machine, tend to be even more neglected than the acceleration of climate change.

For instance one person mentioned that rising seas will lead to polluted water, which is a good point however, the fact is, we are already dumping our waste into the oceans, just by a slightly more circuitous route. Eventually all the cosmetics, medications, heavy metals, etc work their way through the ecosystem to the water.

Similarly, the air is fouled everywhere whether you can see it or not. Tropospheric ozone is invisible but the precursors from fuel emissions travel from Asia across the Pacific to the US, and from North America to Europe. Round and round it goes, with the persistent background level constantly rising as inexorably as CO2.

Since ozone happens to be even more toxic to vegetation than it is to people, it underlies a world-wide decline in forests. Again, people don't see it even though it's quite obvious should you trouble to personally engage a tree that the branches are breaking and the bark is falling off and the foliage is skimpy. We can say goodbye to a major CO2 sink as well as lumber, shade, nuts, many fruits, and predictable precipiation.

In a perfect parallel, the coral reefs are perishing before our eyes. So even if we hadn't already overfished to the point where 90 percent - ninety percent! - of all large fish are gone from the sea, without the nurseries represented by reefs, there will be no recovery.

Overall my expectation is that humans cannot last in a world so degraded and depauperate once industrial civilization has its permanent siezure. It was difficult enough to be a hunter gatherer when the world was teeming with lush flora and fauna. Without the wealth of biodiversity, it has been rendered impossible.

Rhisiart Gwilym said...

I second Publius: true science doesn't deal in 'absolute certainties', but constant open-minded scepticism. Always rare, even amongst professionl scientists, apart from the few inspired awkward sods.

We just don't know for sure how it will all pan out in detail. We can, though, take an odds-on bet the it will be seriously hairy. Seamanship, with well-found, sturdy vessels, experienced, knowledgeable crews, and a couple of buckets of the luck of the devil, looks like a good strategy.

Dmitry, how do you still manage to make me laugh out loud, with every post, often several times, when you're speaking of such dire things? It's a gift!

Judy said...

Yes. I met a scientist a few years back who told me about the atmosphere igniting and blazing through the whole planet, but I thought he was on about oxone at low level. I thought about it and decided that even if it happened, there was nothing I could do, so no point worrying.

I still think there is stuff we could do to adapt to climate change and sea level rise though.

I would bet that Dmitry has already plotted a course to the nearest nuclear free coastline ;)

Kevin Frost said...

Howard Skillington
If there’s something that bothers you at the level of content, please feel free to comment. If the form gives you that ‘near term extinction’ feeling, well, nobody’s stopping you.

Terry T said...

I'm waiting for some nitwit politician to claim that "Yeah, but a rising tide raises all boats!" without irony.

Alexis TK27 said...

Eventual >4°C rise in average temperature along with tens of meters rise in ocean level are certainties. What is according to my understanding still an open question from the scientific point of view is the speed of the latter of those changes: will its timespan be measured in centuries, or rather in mere decades? Now obviously, prudence recommends to assume the worst.

As for regions of the world which could offer the least degraded prospects in case the worst assessment is proven to have been correct, I would imagine Siberia as an option: temperature increase would actually be a plus, ocean rise not a threat, region presently little populated (3 persons per sq.km), rivers taking their source from little polluted areas.

My children have both French and Russian nationalities, my wife being from Russian origin. Russian nationality is probably interesting to keep in order to get a head start in case immigration to Russia becomes a popular option... and people are gathering uncomfortably at the gates of Mother Russia, only handpicked little trickles of the crowd being allowed in.

AA said...

Dmitry, the copy of "Five Stages of Collapse" I ordered through Amazon has already been shipped by them but the copy I ordered from you directly has not. What is the logic of this?

Dmitry Orlov said...

AA -

Amazon is a huge organization, and I am one person. I can't compete with them on speed or price, and won't even try. On the other hand, when people buy buy my book from Amazon, I only get a few pennies per book.

Anonymous said...

Alex from France,

Thinking of regions which might serve as lifeboats for humanity is a natural reaction to the discovery of the climate horrors that await us. Unfortunately, survival of humans assumes that some poor bastards are going to do the hard work of resolving the problem of waste from all of the world's nuclear power plants in the next few decades, in zones that have little long-term future. If enough spent fuel rods can no longer be cooled by water pumps, and start burning, the amount of plutonioum and other radioactive elements released into the atmosphere will pretty much blow out the entire northern hemisphere, if not the south as well. I regard the efforts of Japan to block restarting their nuclear power plants, and of Germany, which has decided to begin decommissioning them in a few more years, a crucial test case of whether or not humanity has the ability to stop the insanity. Poor Europe and Russia though, Germany is just one country, France has 50+ nuclear power plants, and the prevailing winds blow from West to East.

Lance M. Foster said...

Man, this is a heavy heavy post, and the comments are even more dire. So drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

Dmitry, I look forward to receiving the copy I ordered directly from you. Not only do I want YOU to have the money from the book (so take what time you need), I found out this week about the horrible working conditions people who work in the online distribution centers for Amazon and other online merchants have to work in, and I am ending my support of that system as much as I can.

Sangria and a lazy summer for everyone!

Anonymous said...

As a Michigander, I feel as well-positioned for global warming as one might be. In this scenario, there might well be horrendous social chaos around here in 2030, but at least we are high above sea level, have plenty of fresh water and could stand an extra month of summer. I hope that the sea can support many more fishers -- people will be eating the "by-catch," I'm sure, but can humans survive when the fisheries are stripped down to jellyfish and kelp?
I found this R.W. Emerson quote in a packet of California poppy seeds yesterday: "For what avail the plough or sail, or land or life, if freedom fail?"

Patrick said...

Discussions like this always bring to my mind Captain Long John Silver's line in Treasure Island: "Thems wot die first'll be the lucky ones" — or something to that effect.

If one were to truly, deep down, understand that a total (or near total) extinction of humans will take place within a generation, it appears to me one perfectly logical reaction would be akin to the gents on the Titanic who, after seeing their wives and sweethearts to the lifeboats, returned to the poker table and the brandy.

Kevin Frost: Don't mind Howard. I have come to learn that he has some "issues" with hostility and an inflated sense of importance (although he is capable of worthwhile observations like those in his first remark).

Jon said...

I recently posted this to John Michael Greer's site. It might be welcome here as well.

Unless we do something sufficiently horrific to render every habitat uninhabitable, some of something will survive. That’s how nature and evolution are: Very messy and they follow no rules. I can imagine some scenarios, such as scattered tribes from the upper Andes managing to hang on, thanks to a horticultural lifestyle. Then; one, two or three hundred years later; venturing down to the plains, costs and rivers and gradually spreading out, north and south, and eventually finding their way into Siberia and Eurasia, maybe encountering other humans on the Steppes. I hope that goes well. Someday there may be an ‘Out of South America’ theory. Evolution selects those who survive, for whatever reason. Hiding under a rock or at the top of a mountain is as good a reason as any.

This brings to mind another religious meme: The Faithful Remnant. A few are allowed to survive the apocalypse, flood, rain of fire, plague of locusts, choose your favorite atrocity; and repopulate the earth. Of course, calling yourself ‘Chosen People’ is much preferred to ‘Those who, by chance, survived by hiding under a rock or at the top of a mountain.’ It sounds more poetic, less pathetic.


k-dog said...

Part of nearly $510 million in aid being sent to Syria will be as 25,000 metric tons of American wheat. Enough wheat to feed a million people for four months. The Sea rises, the soil dries out. Syria can't grow wheat anymore, hit peak oil in 1996 and becomes a net importer of petroleum.

In 401, when Visigoths entered Italy, the Roman capital was moved to the coastal city of Ravenna, which was protected by a ring of marshes. Could flood zones offer protection against civil wars or would they be near centers of political trouble?

Jacob Gittes said...

Wow, the Archdruid's latest post is about exactly the topic that I commented on (in response to Guy McPherson's comment and recent theorizing about Near Term Human Extinctions or NTE):


Unknown said...

It is beginning to appear that Lovelock was right.

500,000 people living within 50km of the shoreline around the Arctic Ocean, surviving on seaweed, small fish and lichen.

MoonShadow said...

"will its timespan be measured in centuries, or rather in mere decades? Now obviously, prudence recommends to assume the worst"

Be careful with that theory; because 'assuming the worst' could lead you to make dramaticly incorrect assumptions about the nature of any long crisis, and possiblely be just as catastrophic for yourself and those who depend upon you as 'the worst' would be for the rest of humanity. It's as important to plan for the most likey near term threats as it may be to plan for the worst case long term crisis.

Lara Gardner said...

The sad thing about all of this is that the people who caused this mess are the same people with the means to build themselves some sort of cave dwelling that will survive nuclear holocaust, heat, and rising seas, thus ensuring the survival of arrogance. Of course, their shortsighted selfishness will perhaps ultimately result in their extinction as well.

Compound F said...

I just started your book, "The Five Stages...," and I'm both zonked and delighted by your level of discussion, knocked-out incredulous and thankful, that people are speaking so frankly. I just finished JM Greer's "not the future we ordered," and was similarly gobsmacked in a different way. I do suppose historical ideas are in the concurrent air; yet giving them voice in unique ways matters, a lot to me. I just barely cracked it twenty pages beyond waking up, coffee, going to the john, and I can already tell it's a raw gem rock. This book won't be loaned out beyond my household. I'd rather buy a loaner for people outside my house.

MCA said...

After Banda Aceh and Tohoku more recently I wouldn't want to live too close to the sea. We won't always have a modern tsunami warning system.

As for reticenrt climate scientists, they should have become vociforous in the 1980's when we may have been able to make a difference. Now the water is up to the boat deck and the lfeboats have gone.

Gail Zawacki said...

Jon, can I just say this is wrong:

"Unless we do something sufficiently horrific to render every habitat uninhabitable, some of something will survive. That’s how nature and evolution are: Very messy and they follow no rules."

There are rules in nature, lots of them, and they don't care one hoot for what scenarios we humans can "imagine".

I'm no expert in biology, chemistry of physics but I'm pretty sure that they govern nature. The reason this is important is because it means there are consequences for messing around with the balance that existed for millions of years before we came along.

We can't know exactly how those consequences will play out, especially the timeframe, because there are so many variables. But you can be certain that if we put create poisonous substances and spread them liberally throughout the environment, we can't escape the ramifications of that.

From what I can see - stuff like mass extinctions and male frogs missing essential equipment and the unprecedented speed of CO2 release into the atmosphere - I think we've just about pushed the ecosystem to the brink.

I guess in that sense, you're right. It's going to be messy.

Anonymous said...

RE the word "extinction": I seem to have developed the mental habit of substituting "an extinction" (i.e. in the Permian or Cretaceous sense), since that's what's already in progress. It keeps things in perspective regarding the geologic time scale, and the nature of the survival crapshoot. Some species will experience "extinction," while others more suited to the new conditions will be left with a whole lot of room to grow and differentiate. It will depend on which ones can find and occupy "loopholes" ecologically speaking (i.e. niches) and develop work-arounds. It's interesting and strangely appropriate that since this extinction seems human-generated, a lot of what has to be worked-around is human-generated as well (e.g. laws and the like).

Favorite word today: depauperate.

Kevin Frost said...

Patrick: Thank you. That comment was hip shooting on my part, too quick. I just read Greer’s new post. He’s shooting to, in G. McPherson’s direction. The clear implication of this ‘near term extinction’ talk is ... suicide, as you suggested. I joked about it, regrettably. Your point is well taken. It’s an issue one should maybe tread lightly with. Best, KJF

BonRobi said...

Lots of vacant coast already up here in Alaska with some folks already well versed in living largely off the natural resources. One resource is the trilotalk blog by 2 decade seasoned, southeast Alaska, engineless sailor Dave Zeiger. Topics like guerilla gardening via boat, really inexpensive and quick to build sailing barges, and coastal vagabond living honed over years of actually doing it. No reason Daves designs could not be easily welded up of recycled steel. Food fer thoughting and cerebral gunkholing. Easy to see loose, temporary autonomous zone wielding sea clanners pulling this off.

rpauli said...


This is the time when the population crash is half of peak levels.

We need this indicator because extinction is really not possible to note - since the last few people may not know or care to report the significance.

And the crash of population might be either fast or slow - and so we could argue whether we are in a crash or a decline.

Although NTE or crash are thrilling, we might adopt the benchmark of: Half Peak Population.

This is where half of highest number of humans are gone. So with 8 billion - the human half peak population is 4 billion - no matter when it happens. It could be near or 2100.

This is much like nuclear half-life - where the element decay reaches half of the total... because continued decay might go on forever. Same with human population.

Dmitry Orlov said...

rpauli -

Thank you for a very good idea. The interesting measure is "width over half-max" of the population pulse of the Hydrocarbon Man. I don't think there is any question that Hydrocarbon Man not only must go extinct but inevitably will. Other hominids may perhaps remain for a few million years longer.

Jean-Paul Printemps said...

Such a fragile biosphere, with such a narrow operating range of temperature, seems to have been built in to our environment. I like to think about the Gaia hypothesis, where the Earth is self-regulating and the biosphere is part of its means of expression. For mankind to really fulfull his custodian role, a label put on him by so many creation myths, exceptionally forward-thinking people would have to be plugged into society, and exceptionally adaptable social structures would need to flourish. This not seeming to be the case, maybe this kind of firestorm check-valve serves some kind of cosmic purpose.

k-dog said...

Nobody's said it:


Evolve gills while there is still time.

Anicca said...

On the positive side, we are living in one of an infinite number of dimensions. If this one gets "extinguished", there are innumerable others that will support our continuing consciousness. We are all here for the same reason, to "awaken". We will keep coming back until we do, and not necessarily from where we departed. Perhaps the extinction of our species in this time and place will be the catalyst for a "mass" awakening. Rather than fearing the dissolution of our personalities, we can embrace the Consciousness to which we return. Remember "nothing [temporal} is real, nothing to get hung about, Strawberry Fields forever".

Ien in the Kootenays said...

Dear Dmitri, I succumbed to the lure of instant gratification, and got the new book on Kindle. Love it so far. I keep wanting to jot down quotes. Love the high priest image. The utter insanity of the money system has long been a pet peeve. I often use barter in private. Here in paradisical B.C. the part of the population that turned out has just re-elected a pro-fracking, bring on the pipe lines government. The Green vote is steadily growing, but so far it has merely served to split the opposition vote. The insanity of ruining Canada's true wealth, clean water, for the sake of extracting the last bits of ancient sunlight, goes by the name of realism. It makes me want to bang my head against a wall. Meanwhile on a local level many people are awake. And now, we return to the garden.

wuyi said...

well, i am living on a donated hull of a boat not considered a candidate for living-aboard. here in the FL Keys are many others living on such floating things. the sails on my boat make it a legal craft, no engine required. a throw-away solar panel feeds a throw-away deep cycle battery that provides a single LED lamp for lighting at night. a scrounged, dilapidated 7 ft. pram with oars provides access to land. the library provides internet access and power for my laptop. i am acquiring quite a taste for coconuts and am experimenting on methods to prepare local, introduced iguanas. $200 worth of food stamps provide some sustainance as long as the system provides them. presently, propane acquired by hump-labor allows cooking. i am working on alternatives to these 'subsidies'. local fishing is still viable but who knows how long and what effect the corexit will have on health. the turkey point nuke plant has been cited for problems...some of us are doing what we can. quit bitchin' and jump in, the waters fine...:)

Steady Footsteps said...

On a lighter note, here's that classic Bill Cosby routine about Noah and the Ark: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bputeFGXEjA

Mark said...

Thanks to Gail, for reminding us that we have steadily been poisoning our nest for how many generations? I'm well into my 5th decade, and have been watching and wondering at the phenomena that is "homo sapiens". Historical Trivia: Fredrick Law Olmstead's Uncle used a pitchfork to fish for Salmon in the Connecticut River at Hartford. Then there's the story of the American Chestnut. Thanks to all the commentators, this is the only place I bother to read them all.

Kevin said...

Thanks Dmitry for pointing out these important loopholes in such a timely fashion.

Wolfgang Brinck, your information is of interest to me because I happen to live not so far from the harbor you name. I haven't spotted the unofficial live-aboard community you mention, but then I haven't yet looked for it either. I wonder how formidable the official obstacles would be to obtaining a barge and living on it, say, over a tidal mud flat on the bay?

I feel the need to start taking Dmitry's advice and begin connecting with trustworthy allies in the flesh, as it were, not just in the blogosphere, but I'm not quite sure how one begins to go about this. If anyone has any constructive suggestions, I'd be happy to listen.

messianicdruid said...

k-d0g: I always wanted to see WATERworld II, but they never made it for some reason, at least I haven't seen it. The opposite of Dune, a spice would come from?