Friday, 18 July 2014

Wit's End and the Paucity of Hope

I've been following Gail Zawacki's blog, Wit's End, for a couple of years now and it has very usefully introduced me to another of the quiet killers of the unfolding ecological catastrophe: tropospheric ozone pollution (check out her science links if you are interested in the peer reviewed research materials). Below is the introduction to her latest post: A Fine Frenzy - The Universal Dance of Delusion ... and the Paucity of Hope. Nice to see her work getting wider distribution too (e.g. at Desdemona Despair and Op Ed News).
"To the philosopher, the physician, the meteorologist and the chemist, there is perhaps no subject more attractive than that of ozone." ~ C.B Fox, 1873

There is a man who lives on the other side of my village (it is said) who one day, setting out for errands, inadvertently ran over his child as he backed out of the driveway. Ever since I heard this tragic tale, I have thought I can imagine the moment that, thunderstruck with horror and frozen in disbelief, he gazed upon that little mangled body.  I think I know the ferocious dread that overcame him when first he realized that the car of which he was so proudly enamored - that quintessential symbol of success, the pinnacle of modern technology and shiny avatar of individual freedom - was the very same mighty instrument of folly that had literally crushed the one thing most important to him - his progeny, his future.

I suffer his tumultuous and inconsolable grief because that is how I greet every new day since abruptly I came to understand that the splendid, intricate, exquisitely entwined tapestry of life is unraveling. This realization rushed into my consciousness like a dark sinister flood by an odd circumstance.  In the summer of 2008 I suddenly noticed an irrefutable signal - that trees, the essential foundation of so much biodiversity, are dying prematurely.  It was a hot, dry August, and everywhere the leaves were drooping, limp and lifeless.  My curiosity piqued, the more I looked, the more I found indisputable, incontrovertible symptoms of irreversible decay.  It was only the beginning recognition of an ominous trend.  Now, the mute indicators of deterioration are common - swathes of bare branches protrude above the canopy.

Possessing just a rudimentary knowledge of the timescales involved in evolution was enough for me to realize the formidable outcome that must result as trees die off, when myriad crashes reverberate throughout the biosphere.  Eventually, a total collapse of the ecosystem will be inevitable. Initially I speculated that the reason trees manifest terminal afflictions could only be attributed to the changing climate - surely the sole influence extensive enough to instigate such a colossal catastrophe.  And yet, the climactic mechanisms - precipitation and temperature - did not consistently correlate with the empirical evidence I found, which was puzzling.  It turns out, as incredible as it may seem, that the primary reason all species of trees - old and young, coniferous and deciduous - are in precipitous decline is their exposure to pollution.  [MORE HERE]

On A White Horse


Friday, 3 January 2014

Prospects / Retrospects

I was vaguely contemplating making some comments about both the year in retrospect  and the year ahead, but typically for this time of year I’m swamped by a soul destroying mountain of grading. Fortunately, Jason Heppenstall over at 22 Billion Energy Slaves has done a sterling job of sketching out some prospects  for the UK in 2014 with which I heartily agree. I duplicate these below:
 
·         The government and press will continue to confuse asset price inflation with economic recovery. The fact that the FTSE has inflated like a giant floating pig at a Pink Floyd gig will continue to be heralded as proof that an economic recovery is underway. If further proof were needed, house price rises will continue to such an extent that home ownership will slip even further from the outstretched grasp of Mr and Mrs Average, while multi million pound mansions in London will continue to be snatched up like hotcakes by Chinese, Russian and Arab buyers.
·         At the same time, the number of families who rely on food banks will continue to climb. As will the number of children turning up hungry to school and unable to afford school uniforms. Austerity will continue to bite deeper and harder and more people will end up living on the streets. More families will break down and the number of people with a decent job that allows them a good standard of living and a chance to put some aside for the future will continue to fall.
·         The public will become increasingly fed up. British people don’t get angry, they just get miffed. There will be more peeved letters written to The Times, and mostly they will be about the price of petrol and food, and the fact that energy bills and train fares are going up almost as fast as savings rates and pensions are going down. 
·         There will be a growing realisation among people that the retirement age is accelerating away from them as they age, like a mechanical rabbit at a greyhound track. 
·         The government will continue to enact policies that may have made sense ten or twenty years ago before energy supplies had plateaued but which now make no sense whatsoever unless interpreted through the lens of cargo cult behaviour. They will promise more housing development on protected land, more nuclear power stations, more ‘golden age of energy’ fracking, more high speed train lines that nobody needs or can afford, more airports and more road building to promote GROWTH!
·         More people will see through this increasingly desperate tissue of lies and start wondering why they hadn’t seen through it all a few years earlier when they had more cash. They will start reading books on peak oil and searching the internet for somewhere ‘safe’ to go and live. Their fiends will think they are weird and have ‘lost the plot’.
·         Usury will continue to be the most profitable business in the country. More and more people will consider it to be normal behaviour to turn to companies like Wonga.com that feature cute animated 'normal people' characters on prime time adverts and take out loans at 5,853%.
·         The weather will be awful, again. Floods, torrential rain and storms will continue to turn this once green and pleasant isle into something from a dystopian sci-fi B movie where it never stops raining. As a result, more homes built on flood plains, beside rivers or a bit too close to the sea, will become uninsurable. And when it does occasionally stop raining it will turn into a scorching drought that gives old people heat stroke and dries up all the rivers.
·         More and more councils and local authorities will slip into the red and have to cut the services they offer. At the same time, the ongoing wholesale privatisation of council services will massively drive up costs as inefficient and bloated corporate behemoths stuffed with thousands of salaried middle managers attempt to make money out of vital public services - and succeed … at the expense of the public. 
·         Ditto with public health services.
·         More public assets will be sold off at fire sale prices to overseas ‘investors’ and this will be spun as a ‘good thing’ and positive for the economy..
·         The number of road miles driven will continue to fall (it has already fallen by 18% since its peak in 2008) and this will again be put down to increased haulier efficiency and better SatNavs.
·         The number of street lights switched off will continue to climb and safety campaigners will continue to insist that we we are going ‘back to the dark ages’.
·         I will finish writing my book entitled “When the Lights Go Out: A Survival Guide for Energy Descent” and a handful of people will place orders for it through this blog.
 
I'm looking forwards to Jason's book and should have something thematically similar finished later in the year, The Future is Pagan: Collapse and the New Indigeneity, assuming that I can creatively lever the time to finish it.
 
With regard to the year in retrospect, I would consider some of the most salient points to be starkly captured by the 50 Doomiest Images of 2013, the 50 Doomiest Graphs of 2013 and the 45 FossilFuel Disasters the Industry Don’t Want You to Know About.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

The Scorched Earth

James Hansen and colleague's latest paper, 'Climate Sensitivity, Sea Level and Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide', appearing in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society here and here [warning: pdf download], is suitably blunt. Burning all fossil fuels would generate approximately 20 degrees C average warming over land areas and appoximately 30 degrees C at the poles. Certainly fatal for civilization, most human life as we know it and countless other-than-human species and beings too. Hansen et al conclude that, '[i]t seems implausible that humanity will not alter its course as consequences of burning all fossil fuels become clearer.' But they then add the caveat, '[y]et strong evidence about the dangers of human-made climate have so far had little effect.'  Quite - or arguably there is no evidence whatsoever of the brakes being applied yet. The race for unconventional fossil fuels is just heating up.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

News from Balcombe

Some recent news on the anti-fracking protests at Balcombe from an ex-student of mine here.

For an interesting and pointed critique of the economics of fracking and an overview of the ecological costs, I'd strongly recommend Richard Heinberg's Snake Oil: How Fracking's False Promise of Plenty Imperils Our Future. Alan Tootill's Fracking the UK also looks good, although I have yet to read it.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

One Skyscraper. Six Women. No Permission.


"Behind-the-scenes film captures the build-up and the experience of six ordinary women who climbed the tallest building in Europe to protest against Shell’s plan to drill for oil in the Arctic."