Dogs live in the present – they just are! Dogs make the best of each moment uncluttered by the sorts of complex fears and feelings that we humans have. They don’t judge, they simply take the world around them at face value. Yet they have been part of man’s world for an unimaginable time, at least 30,000 years. That makes the domesticated dog the longest animal companion to man, by far!
As man’s companion, protector and helper, history suggests that dogs were critically important in man achieving success as a hunter-gatherer. Dogs ‘teaching’ man to be so successful a hunter enabled evolution, some 20,000 years later, to farming, thence the long journey to modern man. But in the last, say 100 years, that farming spirit has become corrupted to the point where we see the planet’s plant and mineral resources as infinite. Mankind is close to the edge of extinction, literally and spiritually.
Dogs know better, much better! Time again for man to learn from dogs!
Welcome to Learning from Dogs
Back to learning from our wonderful dogs.
Last week, on the 9th to be exact, I published a post under the title of What a funny lot we all are! The thrust of that post was the republication of a recent Tom Dispatch essay by Michael Klare: Tipping Points and the Question of Civilizational Survival. Professor Michael T. Klare is professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left. Those who read his essay will have found it a gloomy report on the future of mankind on this planet.
Back to my sub-title.
One of the golden pieces of advice for all of us who succumb to a fear of the future is to live in the present. Living in the now, in the present, is what our dogs do so very well, and it is a fabulous example for us humans. Because there is such a volume of news about so many things going wrong in our world, that it is easy to become overly negative, possibly to the point of causing us ill health, for there is strong link between mind and body.
When circumstances actually do change then dogs are incredibly quick to adapt to those changed times. Dogs, however, do not worry about the future.
All of which is my preamble to an essay that was published under The Conversation header on Sunday. It was an essay by Melanie Randle, and the link goes to a page that offers:
Melanie is an Associate Professor of Marketing in the School of Management, Operations and Marketing in the Faculty of Business at the University of Wollongong. Her primary research areas are social and non-profit marketing, particularly in the areas of volunteering and foster care. Other research interests include marketing to children, obesity and gambling.
That profile doesn’t give much of a heads-up to the theme of her essay. That theme, to my way of thinking, is that right now change is underway. A change in the awareness of people that change has to take place.
Which is why I chose part of a saying attributed to Plato for the title to this post. The full saying being:
“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.“
So to Melanie’s essay.
Many fear the worst for humanity, so how do we avoid surrendering to an apocalyptic fate?
Melanie Randle, October 11, 2015
A new, four-nation study has found people rate the risks of global threats to humanity surprisingly high. These perceptions are likely to be important, socially and politically, in shaping how humanity responds to the threats.
The study, of more than 2000 people in the US, UK, Canada and Australia, found:
- 54% of people surveyed rated the risk of our way of life ending within the next 100 years at 50% or greater;
- almost one in four (24%) rated the risk of humans being wiped out within a century at 50% or greater;
- almost three in four (73%) believe there is a 30% or greater risk of our way of life ending (30% said that the risk is 70% or more); and
- almost four in ten (39%) believe there is a 30% or greater danger of humanity being wiped out (10% said the risk is 70% or more).
Perceptions of risks to way of life and humanity by country
The study also asked people about different responses to the threats. These responses were categorised as nihilism (the loss of belief in a social or moral order; decadence rules), fundamentalism (the retreat to certain belief; dogma rules), or activism (the transformation of belief; hope rules). It found:
- a large majority (78%) agreed “we need to transform our worldview and way of life if we are to create a better future for the world” (activism);
- about one in two (48%) agreed that “the world’s future looks grim so we have to focus on looking after ourselves and those we love” (nihilism); and
- more than one in three (36%) said “we are facing a final conflict between good and evil in the world” (fundamentalism).
Findings were similar across countries, age, sex and other demographic groups, although some interesting differences emerged. For example, more Americans (30%) believed the risk of humans being wiped out was high and that humanity faces a final conflict between good and evil (47%). This presumably reflects the strength in the US of Christian fundamentalism and its belief in the “end time”, a coming Apocalypse.
Perceptions of risk to way of life and humanity by generation
A world of threats coming to a head
There is mounting scientific evidence and concern that humanity faces a defining moment in history – a time when it must address growing adversities or suffer grave consequences. Reputable journals are canvassing the possibilities; the new study will be published in a special issue of Futures on “Confronting catastrophic threats to humanity”.
Most focus today is on climate change and its many, potentially catastrophic, impacts. Other threats include depletion and degradation of natural resources and ecosystems; continuing world population growth; disease pandemics; global economic collapse; nuclear and biological war and terrorism; and runaway technological change.
Many of these threats are not new. Scientists and other experts have warned of the dangers for decades. Nevertheless, the evidence is growing stronger, especially about climate change, and never before have actual events, including natural disasters and calamities, and their sustained and graphic media coverage so powerfully reinforced the possible impacts.
Not surprisingly, then, surveys reveal widespread public pessimism about the future of the world, at least in Western countries. This includes a common perception of declining quality of life, or that future generations will be worse off.
However, there appears to have been little research into people’s perceptions of how dire humanity’s predicament is, including the risk of collapse of civilisation or human extinction. These perceptions have a significant bearing on how societies, and humanity as a whole, deal with potentially catastrophic futures.
How does loss of faith in the future affect us?
People’s responses in our study do not necessarily represent considered assessments of the specific risks. Rather, they are likely to be an expression of a more general uncertainty and fear, a loss of faith in a future constructed around notions of material progress, economic growth and scientific and technological fixes to the challenges we face.
This loss of faith is important, yet hardly registers in current debate and discussion. We have yet to understand its full implications.
At best, the high perception of risk and the strong endorsement of an activist response could drive a much greater effort to confront global threats. At worst, with a loss of hope, fear of a catastrophic future erodes people’s faith in society, affecting their roles and responsibilities, and their relationship to social institutions, especially government.
It can deny us a social ideal to believe in – something to convince us to subordinate our own individual interests to a higher social purpose.
There is a deeply mythic dimension to this situation. Humans have always been susceptible to apocalyptic visions, especially in times of rapid change; we need utopian ideals to inspire us.
Our visions of the future are woven into the stories we create to make sense and meaning of our lives, to link us to a broader social or collective narrative. Historians and futurists have emphasised the importance of confidence and optimism to the health of civilisations and, conversely, the dangers of cynicism and disillusion.
Despite increasing political action on specific issues like climate change, globally the scale of our response falls far short of matching the magnitude of the threats. Closing this gap requires a deeper understanding of how people perceive the risks and how they might respond.
This article was co-authored by Richard Eckersley, founding director of Australia21.
Now there’s nothing in the essay from Randle and Eckersley to say that these are not critically important times for all of humanity. Yet, I detect that among the many people one meets on a day-to-day basis there is a growing understanding that we can’t just lie down and let the future ride on over us. That living in the present and responding to the world around us here and now is the healthiest way to be, and the most effective. No more powerfully expressed than by Thich Nhat Hanh
“Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.”
Exploring the range of emotions felt and displayed by our dogs.
Like so many bloggers, I subscribe to the writings of many others. Indeed, it’s a rare day when I don’t read something that touches me, stirring up emotions across the whole range of feelings that we funny humans are capable of.
Such was the case with a recent essay published on Mother Nature Network. It was about dogs and whether they are capable of complex emotions. Better than that, MNN allow their essays to be republished elsewhere so long as they are fully and properly credited.
Are dogs capable of complex emotions?
Joy, fear, surprise, disgust, sadness. These are the basic emotions dogs feel that are also easy enough for humans to identify. But what about more complex emotions?
Many dog owners are convinced their dogs feel guilty when they’re caught misbehaving. In the same way, many owners are sure their dogs feel pride at having a new toy or bone. But it gets tricky when you assign these sorts of emotions to a dog. These are definitely emotions felt by humans, but are they also felt by dogs?
Why we question the presence of complex emotions is wrapped up in the way we get to those emotions. The American Psychological Association explains, “Embarrassment is what’s known as a self-conscious emotion. While basic emotions such as anger, surprise or fear tend to happen automatically, without much cognitive processing, the self-conscious emotions, including shame, guilt and pride, are more complex. They require self-reflection and self-evaluation.”
Essentially we’re comparing our behavior or situation to a social expectation. For instance, guilt comes when we reflect on the fact that we’ve violated a social rule. We need to be aware of the rule and what it means to break it. So, can dogs feel guilt? Well, exactly how self-reflective and self-evaluative are dogs?
Among humans, children begin to experience empathy and what are called secondary emotions when they are around 2 years old. Researchers estimate that the mental ability of a dog is roughly equal to that of an 18-month-old human. “This conclusion holds for most mental abilities as well as emotions,” says Stanley Coren in an article in Modern Dog Magazine. “Thus, we can look to the human research to see what we might expect of our dogs. Just like a two-year-old child, our dogs clearly have emotions, but many fewer kinds of emotions than found in adult humans.”
In other words, if 18-month-old children can’t yet experience these emotions, and dogs are roughly equal to them in cognitive and emotional ability, then dogs can’t feel these self-reflective emotions either. At least, that’s what researchers have concluded so far.
Is that guilt or fear?
The evidence for primary emotions like love and happiness in dogs abounds, but empirical evidence for secondary emotions like jealousy and guilt is sparse. And this is partially because it’s difficult to create tests that provide clear-cut answers. When it comes to guilt, does a dog act guilty because she knows she did something wrong, or because she’s expecting a scolding? The same expression can come across as guilt or fear. How do we know which it is?
Scientific American explains it further:
“In wolves, it is thought that guilt-related behaviors serve to reinforce social bonds, as in primates, by reducing conflict and eliciting tolerance from other members of the social group. The same could be true of dogs, though their social groups would primarily include humans. The problem is that the display of the associated behaviors of guilt are not, themselves, evidence of the capacity to emotionally experience guilt… It may still be some time before we can know for certain whether dogs can experience guilt, or whether people can determine if a dog has violated a rule prior to finding concrete evidence of it.”
Guilt, and other secondary emotions, are complicated. That’s exactly why cognitive awareness and emotional capacity in dogs is still a topic under study. In fact, it’s an area that has grown significantly in recent years. We may discover that dogs have a more complex range of emotions than we’re aware of today.
Dogs are highly social animals, and social animals are required to navigate a range of emotions in themselves and those around them to maintain social bonds. It wasn’t so long ago that scientists thought that dogs (and other non-human animals) didn’t have any feelings at all. Perhaps our understanding of dog emotions is simply limited by the types of tests we’ve devised to understand their emotions. After all, we’re trying to detect a sophisticated emotional state in a species that doesn’t speak the same language.
There’s a lot we don’t know
Marc Bekoff makes the argument for leaving the possibility open. In an article in Psychology Today he writes, “[B]ecause it’s been claimed that other mammals with whom dogs share the same neural bases for emotions do experience guilt, pride, and shame and other complex emotions, there’s no reason why dogs cannot.”
Keeping the possibility open is more than just an emotional animal rights issue. There is a scientific basis for continuing the research. A recent study showed that the brains of dogs and humans function in a more similar way than we previously thought.
Scientific American reports that “dog brains have voice-sensitive regions and that these neurological areas resemble those of humans. Sharing similar locations in both species, they process voices and emotions of other individuals similarly. Both groups respond with greater neural activity when they listen to voices reflecting positive emotions such as laughing than to negative sounds that include crying or whining. Dogs and people, however, respond more strongly to the sounds made by their own species.”
Until recently, we had no idea of the similar ways human and dog brains process social information.
So do dogs feel shame, guilt and pride? Maybe. Possibly. It’s still controversial, but for now, there seems to be no harm in assuming they do unless proven otherwise.
Footnote: At this point in the MNN article there was a link to a series of gorgeous photographs of dogs. If you dear readers can wait, then I will publish them this coming Sunday. If you can’t wait, then go here!
The second set of rapidly disappearing memories of a hot summer.
As ever, you take good care of yourselves.
If you don’t care for yourself, then you can not care for others.
Knowing the world is intelligent.
Knowing yourself is enlightenment.
Bending the world to your will takes force.
Willing yourself to bend is true strength.
Succeeding in the world yields riches.
Being content with what is yields wealth.
Apply Tao to the physical world and you will have a long life.
See past the physical world to the enduring presence of Tao and death will lose its meaning.
This is one of my favorite passages from the Tao Te Ching.
May it enrich the whole of you and your day. ☯
*Braun Jr., John; Tzu, Lao; von Bargen, Julian; Warkentin, David (2012-12-02). Tao Te Ching (Kindle Locations 492-498). . Kindle Edition.
May you, and all your friends and loved ones, including your beautiful animals, have a very contented weekend, extending forever more!
We must constantly remind ourselves that we are the servants of Nature, not the other way around!
There is only one species of creature on this planet that has the power to destroy its own species, and much else: Homo sapiens!
It’s such an obvious reflection, yet it is also such an incredibly difficult commitment to make. I am speaking of the commitment to do more than “tut, tut” but to make a real difference in how each of us live, ensuring that we are making real changes year by year.
I am being little more than a “smart arse” in saying we should learn from dogs to live in harmony with our planet because, in truth, this is the one key area where we can’t learn from our dogs: we each have to learn for ourselves and influence others to do the same.
All of which is my way of introducing a very recent essay from Tom Dispatch. It now follows, but be aware that there were simply too many links to recreate in my republished version. It is republished with the very kind permission of Tom Engelhardt.
Tomgram: Michael Klare, Tipping Points and the Question of Civilizational Survival
Posted by Michael Klare at 8:00am, October 8, 2015.
In mid-August, TomDispatch’s Michael Klare wrote presciently of the oncoming global oil glut, the way it was driving the price of petroleum into the “energy subbasement,” and how such a financial “rout,” if extended over the next couple of years, might lead toward a new (and better) world of energy. As it happens, the first good news of the sort Klare was imagining has since come in. In a country where the price of gas at the pump now averages $2.29 a gallon (and in some places has dropped under $1.90), Big Oil has begun cutting back on its devastating plans to extract every imaginable drop of fossil fuel from the planet and burn it. Oil companies have also been laying off employees by the tens of thousands and deep-sixing, at least for now, plans to search for and exploit tar sands and other “tough oil” deposits worldwide.
In that context, as September ended, after a disappointing six weeks of drilling, Royal Dutch Shell cancelled “for the foreseeable future” its search for oil and natural gas in the tempestuous but melting waters of the Alaskan Arctic. This was no small thing and a great victory for an environmental movement that had long fought to put obstacles in the way of Shell’s exploration plans. Green-lighted by the Obama administration to drill in the Chukchi Sea this summer, Shell has over the last nine years sunk more than $7 billion into its Arctic drilling project, so the decision to close up shop was no small thing and offers a tiny ray of hope for what activism can do when reality offers a modest helping hand.
As Klare makes clear today, when it comes to the burning of fossil fuels, reality — if only we bother to notice it — is threatening to offer something more like the back of its hand to us on this embattled planet of ours. He offers a look at a future in which humanity, like various increasingly endangered ecosystems including the Arctic, may be approaching a “tipping point.” Tom
Welcome to a New Planet
Climate Change “Tipping Points” and the Fate of the Earth
Not so long ago, it was science fiction. Now, it’s hard science — and that should frighten us all. The latest reports from the prestigious and sober Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) make increasingly hair-raising reading, suggesting that the planet is approaching possible moments of irreversible damage in a fashion and at a speed that had not been anticipated.
Scientists have long worried that climate change will not continue to advance in a “linear” fashion, with the planet getting a little bit hotter most years. Instead, they fear, humanity could someday experience “non-linear” climate shifts (also known as “singularities” or “tipping points”) after which there would be sudden and irreversible change of a catastrophic nature. This was the premise of the 2004 climate-disaster film The Day After Tomorrow. In that movie — most notable for its vivid scenes of a frozen-over New York City — melting polar ice causes a disruption in the North Atlantic Current, which in turn triggers a series of catastrophic storms and disasters. At the time of its release, many knowledgeable scientists derided the film’s premise, insisting that the confluence of events it portrayed was unlikely or simply impossible.
Fast forward 11 years and the prospect of such calamitous tipping points in the North Atlantic or elsewhere no longer looks improbable. In fact, climate scientists have begun to note early indicators of possible catastrophes.
Take the disruption of the North Atlantic Current, the pivotal event in The Day After Tomorrow. Essentially an extension of the Gulf Stream, that deep-sea current carries relatively warm salty water from the South Atlantic and the Caribbean to the northern reaches of the Atlantic. In the process, it helps keep Europe warmer than it would otherwise be. Once its salty water flows into sub-Arctic areas carried by this prolific stream, it gets colder and heavier, sinks to lower depths, and starts a return trip to warmer climes in the south where the whole process begins again.
So long as this “global conveyor belt” — known to scientists as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC — keeps functioning, the Gulf Stream will also continue to bring warmer waters to the eastern United States and Europe. Should it be disrupted, however, the whole system might break down, in which case the Euro-Atlantic climate could turn colder and more storm-prone. Such a disruption might occur if the vast Greenland ice sheet melts in a significant way, as indeed is already beginning to happen today, pouring large quantities of salt-free fresh water into the Atlantic Ocean. Because of its lighter weight, this newly introduced water will remain close to the surface, preventing the submergence of salty water from the south and so effectively shutting down the conveyor belt. Indeed, exactly this process now seems to be underway.
By all accounts, 2015 is likely to wind up as the hottest year on record, with large parts of the world suffering from severe heat waves and wildfires. Despite all this, however, a stretch of the North Atlantic below Iceland and Greenland is experiencing all-time cold temperatures, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. What explains this anomaly? According to scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Pennsylvania State University, among other institutions, the most likely explanation is the arrival in the area of cold water from the Greenland ice sheet that is melting ever more rapidly thanks to climate change. Because this meltwater starts out salt-free, it has remained near the surface and so, as predicted, is slowing the northern advance of warmer water from the North Atlantic Current.
So far, the AMOC has not suffered a dramatic shutdown, but it is slowing, and scientists worry that a rapid increase in Greenland ice melt as the Arctic continues to warm will pour ever more meltwater into the North Atlantic, severely disrupting the conveyor system. That would, indeed, constitute a major tipping point, with severe consequences for Europe and eastern North America. Not only would Europe experience colder temperatures on an otherwise warmer planet, but coastal North America could witness higher sea levels than those predicted from climate change alone because the Gulf Stream tends to pull sea water away from the eastern U.S. and push it toward Europe. If it were to fail, rising sea levels could endanger cities like New York and Boston. Indeed, scientists discovered that just such a slowing of the AMOC helped produce a sea-level rise of four inches from New York to Newfoundland in 2009 and 2010.
In its 2014 report on the status of global warming, the IPCC indicated that the likelihood of the AMOC collapsing before the end of this century remains relatively low. But some studies suggest that the conveyor system is already 15%-20% below normal with Greenland’s melting still in an early stage. Once that process switches into high gear, the potential for the sort of breakdown that was once science fiction starts to look all too real.
Tipping Points on the Horizon
In a 2014 report, “Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability,” Working Group II of the IPCC identified three other natural systems already showing early-warning signs of catastrophic tipping points: the Arctic, coral reefs, and the Amazonian forest. All three, the report suggested, could experience massive and irreversible changes with profound implications for human societies.
The Arctic comes in for particular scrutiny because it has experienced more warming than any other region on the planet and because the impact of climate change there is already so obvious. As the report put it, “For the Arctic region, new evidence indicates a biophysical regime shift is taking place, with cascading impacts on physical systems, ecosystems, and human livelihoods.”
This has begun with a massive melt of sea ice in the region and a resulting threat to native marine species. “For Arctic marine biota,” the report notes, “the rapid reduction of summer ice covers causes a tipping element that is now severely affecting pelagic [sub-surface] ecosystems as well as ice-dependent mammals such as seals and polar bears.” Other flora and fauna of the Arctic biome are also demonstrating stress related to climate change. For example, vast areas of tundra are being invaded by shrubs and small trees, decimating the habitats of some animal species and increasing the risk of fires.
This Arctic “regime shift” affects many other aspects of the ecosystem as well. Higher temperatures, for instance, have meant widespread thawing and melting of permafrost, the frozen soil and water that undergirds much of the Arctic landmass. In this lies another possible tipping-point danger, since frozen soils contain more than twice the carbon now present in the atmosphere. As the permafrost melts, some of this carbon is released in the form of methane, a potent greenhouse gas with many times the warming potential of carbon dioxide and other such gases. In other words, as the IPCC noted, any significant melting of Arctic permafrost will “create a potentially strong positive feedback to accelerate Arctic (and global) warming.” This, in fact, could prove to be more than a tipping point. It could be a planetary catastrophe.
Along with these biophysical effects, the warming of the Arctic is threatening the livelihoods and lifestyles of the indigenous peoples of the region. The loss of summer sea ice, for example, has endangered the marine species on which many such communities depend for food and the preservation of their cultural traditions. Meanwhile, melting permafrost and coastal erosion due to sea-level rise have threatened the very existence of their coastal villages. In September, President Obama visited Kotzebue, a village in Alaska some 30 miles above the Arctic Circle that could disappear as a result of melting permafrost, rising sea levels, and ever bigger storm surges.
Coral Reefs at Risk
Another crucial ecosystem that’s showing signs of heading toward an irreversible tipping point is the world’s constellation of coral reefs. Remarkably enough, although such reefs make up less than 1% of the Earth’s surface area, they house up to 25% of all marine life. They are, that is, essential for both the health of the oceans and of fishing communities, as well as of those who depend on fish for a significant part of their diet. According to one estimate, some 850 million people rely on coral reefs for their food security.
Corals, which are colonies of tiny animals related to sea anemones, have proven highly sensitive to changes in the acidity and temperature of their surrounding waters, both of which are rising due to the absorption of excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. As a result, in a visually dramatic process called “bleaching,” coral populations have been dying out globally. According to a recent study by the Worldwide Fund for Nature, coral reef extent has declined by 50% in the last 30 years and all reefs could disappear as early as 2050 if current rates of ocean warming and acidification continue.
“This irreversible loss of biodiversity,” reports the IPCC, will have “significant consequences for regional marine ecosystems as well as the human livelihoods that depend on them.” Indeed, the growing evidence of such losses “strengthens the conclusion that increased mass bleaching of corals constitutes a strong warning signal for the singular event that would constitute the irreversible loss of an entire biome.”
The Amazon has long been viewed as the epitome of a tropical rainforest, with extraordinary plant and animal diversity. The Amazonian tree cover also plays a vital role in reducing the pace of global warming by absorbing vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during the process of photosynthesis. For years, however, the Amazon has been increasingly devastated by a process of deforestation, as settlers from Brazil’s coastal regions clear land for farming and ranching, and loggers (many operating illegally) harvest timber for wood products. Now, as if to add insult to injury, the region faces a new threat from climate change: tree mortality due to a rise in severe drought and the increased forest fire risk that accompanies it.
Although it can rain year-round in the Amazon region, there is a distinct wet season with heavy rainfall and a dry season with much less of it. An extended dry season with little rain can endanger the survival of many trees and increase the risk of wildfires. Research conducted by scientists at the University of Texas has found that the dry season in the southern Amazonian region has grown by a week every decade since 1980 while the annual fire season has lengthened. “The dry season over the southern Amazon is already marginal for maintaining rainforest,” says Rong Fu, the leader of the research team. “At some point, if it becomes too long, the rainforest will reach a tipping point” and disappear.
Because the Amazon harbors perhaps the largest array of distinctive flora and fauna on the planet, its loss would represent an irreversible blow to global biodiversity. In addition, the region hosts some of the largest assemblages of indigenous peoples still practicing their traditional ways of life. Even if their lives were saved (through relocation to urban slums or government encampments), the loss of their cultures, representing thousands of years of adaptation to a demanding environment, would be a blow for all humankind.
As in the case of the Arctic and coral reefs, the collapse of the Amazon will have what the IPCC terms “cascading impacts,” devastating ecosystems, diminishing biodiversity, and destroying the ways of life of indigenous peoples. Worse yet, as with the melting of the Arctic, so the drying-out of Amazonia is likely to feed into climate change, heightening its intensity and so sparking yet more tipping points on a planet increasingly close to the brink.
In its report, the IPCC, whose analysis tends, if anything, to be on the conservative side of climate science, indicated that the Amazon faced a relatively low risk of dying out by 2100. However, a 2009 study conducted by Britain’s famed Meteorological (Met) Office suggests that the risk is far greater than previously assumed. Even if global temperatures were to be held to an increase of 2 degrees Celsius, the study notes, as much as 40% of the Amazon would perish within a century; with 3 degrees of warming, up to 75% would vanish; and with 4 degrees, 85% would die. “The forest as we know it would effectively be gone,” said Met researcher Vicky Pope.
Of Tipping Points and Singularities
These four natural systems are by no means the only ones that could face devastating tipping points in the years to come. The IPCC report and other scientific studies hint at further biomes that show early signs of potential catastrophe. But these four are sufficiently advanced to tell us that we need to look at climate change in a new way: not as a slow, linear process to which we can adapt over time, but as a non-linear set of events involving dramatic and irreversible changes to the global ecosphere.
The difference is critical: linear change gives us the luxury of time to devise and implement curbs on greenhouse gas emissions, and to construct protective measures such as sea walls. Non-linear change puts a crimp on time and confronts us with the possibility of relatively sudden, devastating climate shifts against which no defensive measures can protect us.
Were the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation to fail, for example, there would be nothing we could do to turn it back on, nor would we be able to recreate coral reefs or resurrect the Amazon. Add in one other factor: when natural systems of this magnitude fail, should we not expect human systems to fail as well? No one can answer this question with certainty, but we do know that earlier human societies collapsed when faced with other kinds of profound changes in climate.
All of this should be on the minds of delegates to the upcoming climate summit in Paris, a meeting focused on adopting an international set of restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions. Each participating nation is obliged to submit a set of measures it is ready to take, known as “intended nationally determined contributions,” or INDCs, aimed at achieving the overall goal of preventing planetary warming from exceeding 2 degrees Celsius. However, the INDCs submitted to date, including those from the United States and China, suggest a distinctly incremental approach to the problem. Unfortunately, if planetary tipping points are in our future, this mindset will not measure up. It’s time to start thinking instead in terms of civilizational survival.
Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left. A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @mklare1.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.
Copyright 2015 Michael T. Klare
Just to repeat myself in that if you find this essay from Michael Klare one that you want to refer to again, then go across to the version published on TomDispatch so you can follow up the many links in that essay.
A delightful story from Lynda Demsher.
I have referred previously to AIM, the authors’ group based in nearby Grants Pass, OR. Lynda is a published author who is one of the AIM members. The other day, Lynda sent me the following:
Paul, I know you’ve been busy so I sent you this if you need something for your blog if it’s the kind of thing you use. Might be timely as well given the latest talk about guns. It is somewhat about my dog and how I ended up at one of the biggest gun shows in the west while looking for dog training equipment. This was published in “Invisible Memoirs,” a Bay Area journal.
So with no further ado, here is Lynda’s story. It is about dogs!
The Gun Show
If not for my youngest hunting dog, the one my husband calls “the idiot,” I might have missed it. Instead, I put on my best leather vest and dressiest black jeans (known as “wedding jeans” where I lived in Modoc County) and joined the hundreds of people streaming into the Reno Gun Show set up in the basement of the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino. The entrance yawned like a dim and secretive man-cave, beckoning lines of mostly men to enter, after forking over a $10 fee of course. I wondered if I needed a password or a special handshake as well. The furtive restlessness of the crowd suggested this was a place with protocols. I was in line with my husband and two of his hunting buddies so I asked what they were. I got the look men give when they think a woman asks a stupid question. Women are allowed of course, when the show opens for its three-day run in November, but few attend. Women whisper that gun shows are the equivalent of hanging out at your brother’s scout meeting. No one tells you to leave but they wish you would.
The Idiot happens to be an odd little bird dog I rescued from the pound who needed some work for this year’s hunting season, so I decided to tag along with my husband and his friends, even though the trip was their annual guy-getaway. They made the mistake of telling me the show had “all kinds of hunting stuff” so I decided to see for myself. My young German wirehaired pointer was the laughing stock of my husband’s hunting group last season when he insisted on carrying his favorite toy into the field. He’s a bit gun-sensitive and feels more secure with something in his mouth. He does hunt when the excitement kicks in, but a dog pointing a bird with a big red Frisbee in his mouth isn’t taken all that seriously where I lived until recently. In that rural high-desert county, way out in the northeast corner of California, bordering both Nevada and Oregon, you don’t escape a good razzing if your hunting dog is a clown.
I was certain a place featuring guns would have the latest in gun dog supplies too, since guns and dogs go together like soda and pop. I have to admit though, curiosity was also a motivation. My husband has attended these shows for years even though the guns in his safe far outnumber his annual critter kill. He rarely purchases anything, but he always brings back entertaining observations about the characters floating around in the gun galaxy.
I had a camera in my vest and was anxious to record some of these characters, or possibly the appearance of a film star or political figure also known to attend. But when the guys and I inched forward toward the ticket booth I noticed a large sign with bold black letters saying photographs were prohibited. A stern-looking armed guard wearing combat fatigues stood nearby. Darn. I really did want to sneak a picture of the woman just ahead of us. Her general appearance suggested biology had advanced to the point where it was possible to mix warthog and human DNA. Dressed in baggy camouflage sweats, she rolled toward the entrance like an Abrams tank. Completing her ensemble was a large red button with black letters pinned to her chest. As I got a closer to her, I realized it said “Obama Scares Me.” Now I knew what to do in case she decided to have me for lunch. I could just wave my arms over my head and yell “Obama!”
My husband, tall and thin, with wire-rimmed glasses, was wearing a v-neck sweater over a button-down shirt and tan khakis. He looked more like a college professor emeritus than a gun enthusiast in this crowd. I could tell where he was in the room while his stockier friends, wearing the more standard uniform of white t-shirt, forest-green down vest and sagging blue jeans, quickly melted into the browsing crowd.
Left alone, I felt like a migrant in an alien universe, even though guns are not alien to me. I lived within walking distance of a duck blind and my house was full of shabby hunting lodge décor, including 30 or 40 antique duck decoys, old shotguns, ammunition boxes, and deer horns, while back issues of Gun Dog and other hunting magazines littered my end tables. Outdoor supply catalogues were required bathroom reading. Hunting season in the fall is my favorite time of year, but I don’t shoot much anymore. Shooting is a precise sport, requiring hours of ear-blowing, shoulder-banging practice. Without a lot of practice, you could end up killing your brother-in-law. Since hunters are morally obligated to eat what they kill, I do most of my shooting with a camera now. I have yet to come across a good brother-in-law marinade.
My role in hunting is mainly working the dogs and I’ve trained a couple of generations of them. From my point of view, hunting isn’t really about the guns, or even the game, it’s primarily about the dogs. Guns are tools to get the game, which requires a gourmet cooking degree to render edible. And unless you hunt on a club, or hunt ducks down on the river, finding wild upland game birds usually requires a before-dawn trip out into nowhere land and then a bone-rattling drive over 30 miles of volcanic rock followed by a shin-bruising hike up a steep brushy hill. The dogs, however, make it all worthwhile. Upland game birds, such as mountain grouse, quail and chucker seldom welcome a hunting party so it’s the dogs’ job to find their hiding places. The pointers put on a field ballet in their pursuit, leap-flying over rocks and brush, dancing across icy streams and twirling to follow a backtracked scent that says “bird this way.” The dog locating the flock stretches into a steady point with foreleg curled and tail straight out. Others in the hunting pack quietly honor his point by staying slightly behind and perfectly still. The dogs stay motionless because the birds, having bird brains, think no one can see them in the bushes if they stay perfectly still. On command the dog leans in slightly, setting off a whirring explosion of blurred brown wings. Guns go off and the dogs track falling birds with their internal geometry, then race to find them in the brush. Some bird dogs are trained to bring the game back to hand, some drop it in front of their hunter, but all prance back with their birds, undeniably proud.
My little wirehair was on the verge being left out of the next hunt because of his eccentricities, but I had hope of finding him some help, possibly in the form of new training technology, realistic training birds and game scent for saturating them, or even a field rope that wouldn’t tangle up on itself. Something, anything, that would get him past the silly juvenile stage in the field.
After browsing the floor for a while and getting blank stares when inquiring if anyone in the room had dog gear, I realized this was not a hunters’ expo but a raw display of powerful arms, some just happening to be for wild game. Rows and rows of gunmetal under florescent light made everything look eerily green and iridescent. Gun hammers clicked empty threats throughout the chamber as vendors demonstrated the bolt action, trigger sensitivity, and firing pin mechanisms of their wares. From the hum of the hype, I’d swear testosterone was being dispersed through the air conditioning to mingle with the ambient odor of sweaty socks.
The room I was in could have housed the first floor of a department store in the mall nearby where the wives of my husband’s friends were enjoying a shopping spree. I counted at least 50 gun sellers with their wares spread neatly on folding metal tables. “Cowboys” in western dress had a row of tables along one wall, where they leaned their folding chairs back as far as they could, trying their best to look like they’d just come in from ropin’ and wranglin’ on the range These vendors also displayed saddles and horse tack along with some rusty cast iron cookware for effect. Other tables had a few duck decoys, old metal signs, antique weaponry and Native American artifacts made in China mixed in for color. One vendor had a nice selection of silver and turquoise jewelry, indicating some purchases here would require softening up the wife back home.
Toward the rear of the area was a cordoned off space stacked with cases of ammunition. Men with hand-trucks stood patiently in line, waiting their turn to purchase as much as they could pile onto their rolling devices. I stood near the line for a while, admiring the craftsmanship of some wooden boxes housing the more expensive ammo. The men around me weren’t there for the boxes though. They were convinced the government was trying to make ammunition scarce as a form of gun control. That’s why they were stocking up. The ammo sellers loudly agreed, while their cash registers sang a money song.
After wandering around and getting bored by the monotony of gun metal and noise, I almost ditched the place for the mall. But then I remembered the woman I saw at the entrance and decided I couldn’t leave without at least one story about a gun-show character. I didn’t see her anywhere, but I did notice a stream of people heading toward a big double-door at the back of the room. I decided to explore.
Turns out, there was a second room of vendors, nearly as large as the first. That room was accessible only through the Refreshment Station where three men in black from their hats to their boots, resembling worn out old villains from a 1948 John Wayne movie, leaned against a bar drinking beer with whisky shooters. Each of them had a scruffy beard and a long-barreled pistol in a holster strapped to a leg. While I have a strong appreciation for the peculiar, I’m very wary of guns in the vicinity of alcohol, so I hoped these guys were just for show. When they caught me looking at them though, none cracked a smile. I felt like a Martian at a rodeo. I quickly ducked between a passing group of men in big hats and entered an arsenal that would put a Syrian rebel in a jealous rage.
It wasn’t just an arsenal though. It was an education. If I hadn’t stumbled in here I never would have learned about Apocalyptic Zombies.
Only one vendor in the room had guns actually meant for shooting animals, probably a last-minute booking, and there was no sign of anything related to hunting dogs. The rest of the 30 or 40 vendors seemed to display an unsettling urgency to scare up business, literally. The place looked like a war zone Wal-Mart. There were a few women in this room but they hardly fit the description of the one I saw at the entrance. One was a tall blond in a low-cut blouse with a holstered gun strapped to a bare leg. Not to be outdone, another vendor had his own buxom blond parading around in a Daisy Mae outfit, showing off AK-47s. The third woman was a tired-looking grandmother playing a game on a tablet computer. She seemed to be in charge of a cash box.
Even though Christmas decorated the outside world this time of year, in here it was Fourth of July. American flags along with red, white and blue streamers were everywhere. It all seemed very patriotic until a closer look revealed the joyful colors swirling into stacks of T-shirts, bumper-stickers, posters and even baby bibs featuring clownish pictures and boorish sayings about the President of the United States. Although I usually keep myself in observation mode in jarring places, my curiosity gnawed. Finally, I asked one vendor why he had so much Obama stuff for sale, since the President had won a second term and election season was over.
“I just like the humor, it’s just humorous,” he said with a hiss. I looked for the lemon he must have been sucking on just before I got there. Of course, his tone made it irresistible for me to ask my next question:
“Aren’t you afraid of losing business by offending someone who might actually like the President?”
He shot me a definite NO! and said he didn’t have anything more to say.
Two booths past the gun-show humorist I came across a display of Nazi paraphernalia for sale under a large poster warning “What worked for Hitler will work for Obama!!” I wondered what would work for both Hitler and Obama. Obviously not a twitter account. The table under the sign had a full-length glass case displaying a collection of what appeared to be old Nazi war souvenirs. Almost everything had a swastika on it. There were tattered leather wallets, worn pistol holsters, moth-eaten wool gloves, yellowed ID cards, heavy gold watches, pistols, money clips, buttons, key chains, belt buckles, helmets, worn but well-polished boots, , ammunition holders, cups, silverware and unidentifiables with wires sticking out. The black velvet lining of the cases made the rather creepy items look important. Some did not look like original Nazi war items though, especially the cell phone cases. I walked over to the vendor, hoping to ask him where this stuff came from. He was bent over something in his lap, looking like the kind of old, green-aproned shoemaker you see in foreign films. He did not look up at me. Was he trying to sell this stuff, or just make a statement? I didn’t find out what would work for both Hitler and Obama until I browsed the next display down.
Six long tables, three on each side, were shoved together and piled with books. I picked up one with a swastika on it. Skimming through it I quickly learned the perils of a “gun-less society” and how disarming citizens would allow government to “go wild” and start hauling off defenseless people to be enslaved in work camps or tortured in some hideous way before being thrown in a ditch and shot. Hitler had taken everyone’s guns away before the Holocaust, the book noted, and signs that the U.S. government was headed in that direction were becoming evident. Gun control was part of a bigger plan by our sneaky president and his socialist supporters to abolish the Constitution and end Democracy. The book was published in 2011. I hid that book under the pile it came from.
Then, from other books in the selection, I learned the world is on the verge of destruction, society is about to break down, and we’ll all have to defend ourselves against those who did not have the foresight to prepare for the Apocalypse. So much for the return of Hitler. These books indicated I had bigger things to worry about. The word “Apocalypse,” always capitalized, peppered these publications, but few foretold much of a cause beyond some vague hint of world-wide economic collapse caused by Obamacare. One book mentioned we might be hit by a giant meteorite and had the distinction of being the only one I skimmed that didn’t blame the impending disaster on the President, although I didn’t read the whole thing.
Selecting another book, I discovered that preparing for “The Apocalypse” not only involves stockpiling long-lasting packs of food and water, conveniently for sale at the gun show, but learning to kill, gut and skin your pets for food, and how to harvest and cook weeds and certain kinds of dirt (the kind with animal poop in it) in case the Apocalypse lasts longer than your supplies. I imagined how someone reading that book might just double or triple his order of archival food buckets being sold at the booth down the aisle to avoid eating his beagle or the equivalent of cat litter during dire circumstances.
For city dwellers there were books on how to fix up your car so you could escape to the wilderness and live in it when you run out of gas. In the back of these books were web sites where you could order overpriced canning jars, all kinds of knives, and archery equipment, as you don’t really want to run into people you know while stockpiling at a local shopping center. The books tell you not to let on you’re prepared for survival, or you might be overrun by your starving friends and neighbors, referred to as the Apocalyptic Zombies, who will be desperate and not above killing you for your stash. And, of course, to complete your survival package, readers were advised to get at least one high-powered assault weapon and teach every member of the family to shoot after accumulating enough ammunition to hold off three battalions of U.S. Marines.
Moving on from the dire warnings, I noticed more signs, posters and even targets picturing the dreaded Apocalyptic Zombies tacked up behind the assault weapons vendors. These warned that I would be at the mercy of monsters unless I owned a big black gun. Who knew the awful Zombies coming to get me would look exactly like the walking dead from old horror movies, complete with purple skin and bloody faces. I thought they’d look more like the lady I saw at the entrance, the one with the Obama button.
Emerging from the book table I wondered if they had a psychiatrist’s booth around where I could pay a dollar to have my paranoia removed. Looking up at the whole of the room, my world was suddenly full of glistening gun barrels jutting in the air like millennial symbols of manhood. I expected a worship dance to begin anytime. The air felt thick and smelled of gun oil and the ever-present dirty socks. I looked for something to hide behind until someone I knew came along. I picked the biggest gun in the show. This gun was a cannon-like affair on a shooting stand, set up on a sturdy table with an ammunition clip flowing to the floor. It was outfitted with a computerized night-vision contraption advertised as something the military uses to find terrorists in Afghanistan. The whole package cost more than $6,000. I hadn’t seen anything like it anywhere else at the show. I thought about sneaking a picture of it.
“What do you use it for?” I asked, after actually admiring the technology on the thing.
A very serious dark-haired man in his early 30s who was seated at the table directed his icy blue eyes toward me, squinted, and said flatly “chicken-stealing coyotes.” I started to laugh but held back when the man continued to stare at me like a vampire who senses his favorite blood type. The guy even had a widow’s peak. Had he seen my camera? I slowly took my hand off it in my pocket and pulled away, saying “nice gun, nice gun.”
To catch my breath and get a better sense of perspective, I continued exploring from there, stopping to have a chat with a grandfatherly-type who made ink pens out of spent bullet casings, and a wiry old codger who tried to sell me a leather purse featuring an opening along the back seam for my handgun, so it would be within easy reach if I suddenly needed to shoot a mugger. I don’t think he realized the featured convenience on the shoulder bag would also put the gun within easy reach of a nosy little kid who’s exploring hands might find Grandma’s toy while standing in line with her at the bank. After politely refusing the purse offer, I stopped at a booth where a vendor assured me his “miracle” canvas bag, which resembled a diaper for a three-legged toddler, would keep food frozen for two weeks. Then, at a booth selling pistols, I watched with growing anxiety as a salesman pitched a pocket-sized weapon to a short, baggy-eyed man with bed-hair who seemed to be contributing most of the dirty-sock smell. The guy looked like he could really use a psychiatric booth, but that didn’t seem to concern the enthusiastic salesman telling him he was running a special that day – free membership in the National Rifle Association (NRA) for a year with every purchase. That was odd because the NRA table out front was hawking free memberships to anyone who’d fill out a form.
Finally, I ran into a pair of vendors violating an apparent rule against having fun at a gun show. They were the only non-Caucasian sellers, young men of Asian descent, who were happily booking “Full Auto Shoots” for “that special occasion.” They had a couple of M-16s on display, but they weren’t selling them. They were “renting” them at a gun club so people could shoot their hearts out at steel targets. Why steel? “People like to hear the pling,” one of the men told me with a wink. These two guys beamed with their clever idea. For $50 a clip you could unleash your inner killer without harming anyone, they explained. I asked him who the typical customer might be. He showed me a video on his smart phone of a bachelor party and said he gets a lot of requests for these.
“You can film these kinds of bachelor parties,” he said, “and the brides-to-be love it because the men can have fun without getting drunk with naked women!”
He also said they did birthday parties. “Eleven-year-olds love to shoot, and we have special padding on the guns for them,” he said. “Moms love it because it’s something different!”
About that time my husband caught up with me, and became very interested in the rent-a-machine-gun idea. Might bring tourists out to our economically challenged community, he remarked. I told him I was ready to ditch this place as the only thing I found here having any connection to dogs was a book that gave instructions on how to skin and eat them. He said he was ready for lunch but I couldn’t think of eating until I got the image of dog snout stew out of my head. We left, but not before I finally spotted the woman with the Obama button on our way out. She was examining a nice little AR-15. When she looked up at us with that gun in her hands I knew we were all doomed. The Apocalyptic Zombies were buying guns here as well.
Will leave it there as have a host of things to do before leaving to go to Medford Airport and welcome Jean back from her trip to Mexico. (As of yesterday afternoon!)
For all those who love the English language.
With thanks to neighbour Dordie who forwarded the following under her introduction of: “This will give you something else to ponder while editing.”
Homographs are words of like spelling but with more than one meaning. A homograph that is also pronounced differently is a heteronym.
You think English is easy?
I think a retired English teacher was bored…THIS IS GREAT!
1) The bandage was wound around the wound.
2) The farm was used to produce produce.
3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
4) We must polish the Polish furniture.
5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.
6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.
8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes..
10) I did not object to the object.
11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
13) They were too close to the door to close it.
14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.
15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.
16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
17) The wind was too strong for me to wind the sail.
18) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear..
19) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
20) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?
Let’s face it – English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren’t invented in England or French fries in France . Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat. We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.
And why is it that writers write but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth, beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese? One index, 2 indices? Doesn’t it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?
If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell?
How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which, an alarm goes off by going on.
English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all. That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible..
PS. – Why doesn’t ‘Buick’ rhyme with ‘quick’?
You lovers of the English language might enjoy this.
There is a two-letter word that perhaps has more meanings than any other two-letter word, and that is ‘UP.’
It’s easy to understand UP, meaning toward the sky or at the top of the list, but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake UP?
At a meeting, why does a topic come UP?
Why do we speak UP and why are the officers UP for election and why is it UP to the secretary to write UP a report?
We call UP our friends.
And we use it to brighten UP a room, polish UP the silver; we warm UP the leftovers and clean UP the kitchen.
We lock UP the house and some guys fix UP the old car.
At other times the little word has real special meaning.
People stir UP trouble, line UP for tickets, work UP an appetite, and think UP excuses.
To be dressed is one thing, but to be dressed UP is special..
A drain must be opened UP because it is stopped UP.
We open UP a store in the morning but we close it UP at night.
We seem to be pretty mixed UP about UP!
To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of UP, look the word UP in the dictionary.
In a desk-sized dictionary, it takes UP almost 1/4th of the page and can add UP to about thirty definitions.
If you are UP to it, you might try building UP a list of the many ways UP is used.
It will take UP a lot of your time, but if you don’t give UP, you may wind UP with a hundred or more.
When it threatens to rain, we say it is clouding UP.
When the sun comes out we say it is clearing UP..
When it rains, it wets the earth and often messes things UP.
When it doesn’t rain for a while, things dry UP.
One could go on and on, but I’ll wrap it UP,
for now my time is UP,
so…….it is time to shut UP!
Now it’s UP to you what you do with this email.
Well, I’m glad that’s all clear then!