Is it just me?

Some days, one just wonders about a world that appears to be stark, raving mad!

One of the fundamental things that mankind is not learning from dogs, or from other animals for that fact, is having a sensitivity to danger.

Even happy, domesticated dogs, as with cats, are incredibly quick to pick up on something that just doesn’t ‘feel right’!

For example, take what was written here last Wednesday. About the extreme madness of our dependency on oil for our food!

Why is there no outcry?

Just recently, NOAA reported that “April 2014 was tied with April of 2010 as being the warmest April on record globally for land and ocean surface combined. NOAA also said that – globally – the January 2014 to April 2014 period was the 6th warmest Jan-Apr period on record.”

Why is there no outcry?

Just ten days ago, I wrote a post under the title of The nature of delusions. Included in that post was an essay from George Monbiot he called Are We Bothered? His proposition being, “The more we consume, the less we care about the living planet.

Part of me hates the way that this blog often touches on pain and negativity but my motivation is simply that doing nothing, ignoring what is so wrong in the world, would be the height of irresponsibility.

All of which is a preamble to another George Monbiot essay. Mr. Monbiot is a powerful writer as his many essays demonstrate. But this latest one from him is one of the most powerful essays in a very long time.

It’s not a comfortable read. But sure as hell, it’s a must read!


The Impossibility of Growth

May 27, 2014

Why collapse and salvation are hard to distinguish from each other.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 28th May 2014

Let us imagine that in 3030BC the total possessions of the people of Egypt filled one cubic metre. Let us propose that these possessions grew by 4.5% a year. How big would that stash have been by the Battle of Actium in 30BC? This is the calculation performed by the investment banker Jeremy Grantham (1).

Go on, take a guess. Ten times the size of the pyramids? All the sand in the Sahara? The Atlantic ocean? The volume of the planet? A little more? It’s 2.5 billion billion solar systems (2). It does not take you long, pondering this outcome, to reach the paradoxical position that salvation lies in collapse.

To succeed is to destroy ourselves. To fail is to destroy ourselves. That is the bind we have created. Ignore if you must climate change, biodiversity collapse, the depletion of water, soil, minerals, oil; even if all these issues were miraculously to vanish, the mathematics of compound growth make continuity impossible.

Economic growth is an artefact of the use of fossil fuels. Before large amounts of coal were extracted, every upswing in industrial production would be met with a downswing in agricultural production, as the charcoal or horse power required by industry reduced the land available for growing food. Every prior industrial revolution collapsed, as growth could not be sustained (3). But coal broke this cycle and enabled – for a few hundred years – the phenomenon we now call sustained growth.

It was neither capitalism nor communism that made possible the progress and the pathologies (total war, the unprecedented concentration of global wealth, planetary destruction) of the modern age. It was coal, followed by oil and gas. The meta-trend, the mother narrative, is carbon-fuelled expansion. Our ideologies are mere subplots. Now, as the most accessible reserves have been exhausted, we must ransack the hidden corners of the planet to sustain our impossible proposition.

On Friday, a few days after scientists announced that the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is now inevitable (4), the Ecuadorean government decided that oil drilling would go ahead in the heart of the Yasuni national park (5). It had made an offer to other governments: if they gave it half the value of the oil in that part of the park, it would leave the stuff in the ground. You could see this as blackmail or you could see it as fair trade. Ecuador is poor, its oil deposits are rich: why, the government argued, should it leave them untouched without compensation when everyone else is drilling down to the inner circle of hell? It asked for $3.6bn and received $13m. The result is that Petroamazonas, a company with a colourful record of destruction and spills (6), will now enter one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, in which a hectare of rainforest is said to contain more species than exist in the entire continent of North America (7).

The UK oil company Soco is now hoping to penetrate Africa’s oldest national park, Virunga, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (8); one of the last strongholds of the mountain gorilla and the okapi, of chimpanzees and forest elephants. In Britain, where a possible 4.4 billion barrels of shale oil has just been identified in the south-east (9), the government fantasises about turning the leafy suburbs into a new Niger delta. To this end it’s changing the trespass laws to enable drilling without consent and offering lavish bribes to local people (10,11). These new reserves solve nothing. They do not end our hunger for resources; they exacerbate it.

The trajectory of compound growth shows that the scouring of the planet has only just begun. As the volume of the global economy expands, everywhere that contains something concentrated, unusual, precious will be sought out and exploited, its resources extracted and dispersed, the world’s diverse and differentiated marvels reduced to the same grey stubble.

Some people try to solve the impossible equation with the myth of dematerialisation: the claim that as processes become more efficient and gadgets are miniaturised, we use, in aggregate, fewer materials. There is no sign that this is happening. Iron ore production has risen 180% in ten years (12). The trade body Forest Industries tell us that “global paper consumption is at a record high level and it will continue to grow.” (13) If, in the digital age, we won’t reduce even our consumption of paper, what hope is there for other commodities?

Look at the lives of the super-rich, who set the pace for global consumption. Are their yachts getting smaller? Their houses? Their artworks? Their purchase of rare woods, rare fish, rare stone? Those with the means buy ever bigger houses to store the growing stash of stuff they will not live long enough to use. By unremarked accretions, ever more of the surface of the planet is used to extract, manufacture and store things we don’t need. Perhaps it’s unsurprising that fantasies about the colonisation of space – which tell us we can export our problems instead of solving them – have resurfaced (14).

As the philosopher Michael Rowan points out, the inevitabilities of compound growth mean that if last year’s predicted global growth rate for 2014 (3.1%) is sustained, even if we were miraculously to reduce the consumption of raw materials by 90% we delay the inevitable by just 75 years(15). Efficiency solves nothing while growth continues.

The inescapable failure of a society built upon growth and its destruction of the Earth’s living systems are the overwhelming facts of our existence. As a result they are mentioned almost nowhere. They are the 21st Century’s great taboo, the subjects guaranteed to alienate your friends and neighbours. We live as if trapped inside a Sunday supplement: obsessed with fame, fashion and the three dreary staples of middle class conversation: recipes, renovations and resorts. Anything but the topic that demands our attention.

Statements of the bleeding obvious, the outcomes of basic arithmetic, are treated as exotic and unpardonable distractions, while the impossible proposition by which we live is regarded as so sane and normal and unremarkable that it isn’t worthy of mention. That’s how you measure the depth of this problem: by our inability even to discuss it.



1. http://www.theoildrum.com/node/7853

2. Grantham expressed this volume as 1057 cubic metres. In his paper We Need To Talk About Growth, Michael Rowan translated this as 2.5 billion billion solar systems. (http://persuademe.com.au/need-talk-growth-need-sums-well/). This source gives the volume of the solar system (if it is treated as a sphere) at 39,629,013,196,241.7 cubic kilometres, which is roughly 40 x 1021 cubic metres. Multiplied by 2.5 billion billion, this gives 1041 cubic metres.

Since posting this, I’ve received the following clarifications:

From Jacob Bayless:

“… about the volume of the solar system — there is no agreed-upon definition of its diameter, which is why the figures vary wildly. (There are also two definitions of ‘a billion’, which adds to the confusion). Using the radius of Neptune’s orbit, as the farthest ‘planet’ from the sun, gives the 2.5 billion billion figure:

The orbit of Neptune is 4.5 x 10^12 m radius, which yields a 4 x 10^38 cubic m sphere. Multiplying this by 2.5 x 10^18, or “2.5 billion billion”, gives 10^57 cubic m. So that calculation checks out.

The heliopause radius would be another possible way to measure the solar system radius; it’s 4 times as far and thus 64 times the volume.”

From Geoff Briggs:

“Michael Rowan has taken the size of the solar system to be the orbit of Neptune, which is kind of understandable, but the sun’s influence extends a LOT further than that, so his estimate is correspondingly significantly overstated (ie the extra billion).

The 39,629,… cubic km figure from yahoo answers is based on a correct calculation in light years, but then a massive cock-up in the conversion to cubic km. The author seems to have assumed that a light year is about 21,000,000m, which is off by about eight orders of magnitude. 4.2 cubic light years is about 3.6 x 10^39 cubic km (and hence about 3.6 x 10^48 cubic metres).”

From Andrew Bryce:

“Starting volume of Egyptian possessions = 1 m3

after 3000 years volume = 1 x (1.045)^3000

= 2.23 x 10^57 m3

Assume the radius of the solar system is 50 AU (the distance to the Kuiper belt)

1 AU = 1.496 x 10^11 m

radius of the solar system = 50 AU = 7.48 x 10^12 m

volume of solar system = 4/3 x pi x r^3

= 1.75 x 10^39 m3

so the Egyptian possessions would require 2.23 x 10^57 / 1.75 x 10^39 solar systems

= 1.27 x 10^18

= about 1.27 billion billion solar systems

If you consider the radius of the solar system to be 40 AU (about the mid point of the orbit of Pluto), then you would get a figure of about 2.5 billion solar systems.”

But: “if you round off the volume of possessions to exactly 10^57 m3, and you assume the radius of the solar system to be 30 AU (the orbit of Neptune), then you would also get a figure of around 2.5 billion billion solar systems (well, 2.64 billion billion), which might be where the calculation came from. That would be a better definition for the size of the solar system, because it has a neatly defined edge.”

3. EA Wrigley, 2010. Energy and the English Industrial Revolution. Cambridge University Press.

4. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/may/12/western-antarctic-ice-sheet-collapse-has-already-begun-scientists-warn

5. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/may/23/ecuador-amazon-yasuni-national-park-oil-drill

6. http://www.entornointeligente.com/articulo/2559574/ECUADOR-Gobierno-concede-licencia-para-la-explotacion-de-dos-campos-del-ITT-23052014

7. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/16/ecuador-approves-yasuni-amazon-oil-drilling

8. http://www.wwf.org.uk/how_you_can_help/virunga/

9. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/may/23/fracking-report-billions-barrels-oil-government-cynicism

10. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/energy/fracking/10598473/Fracking-could-be-allowed-under-homes-without-owners-permission.html

11. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/may/23/fracking-report-billions-barrels-oil-government-cynicism

12. Philippe Sibaud, 2012. Opening Pandora’s Box: The New Wave of Land Grabbing by the Extractive Industries and the Devastating Impact on Earth. The Gaia Foundation. http://www.gaiafoundation.org/opening-pandoras-box

13. http://www.forestindustries.fi/industry/paper_cardboard_converted/paper_pulp/Global-paper-consumption-is-growing-1287.html

14. https://www.globalonenessproject.org/library/articles/space-race-over

15. Michael Rowan, 2014. We Need To Talk About Growth (And we need to do the sums as well.) http://persuademe.com.au/need-talk-growth-need-sums-well/


Why is there no outcry!


Breaking news!

Recent news items reinforce messages from yesterday’s book review.

In my review published yesterday of Martin Lack’s book Denial of Science, I wrote, “the continuing and accelerating loss of the Arctic ice-cap“.  Back on the 22nd in More new tomorrows, I included:

study published in 2012 showed that by changing the temperature balance between the Arctic and mid-latitudes, rapid Arctic warming is altering the course of the jet stream, which steers weather systems from west to east around the northern hemisphere. The Arctic has been warming about twice as fast as the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, due to a combination of human emissions of greenhouse gases and unique feedbacks built into the Arctic climate system. The jet stream, the study said, is becoming “wavier,” with steeper troughs and higher ridges.

A new study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters shows that reduced sea ice cover can favor colder and stormier winters in the northern midlatitudes. [my emphasis – UK readers will need no reminding of this!]

So bear those references in mind as you read:

Breaking News (Literally): NOAA Video Confirms Early Breakup

March 23, 2013

Compare to our recent discussion of these developments in the Beaufort Sea.

NOAA Visualizations:

Published on Mar 22, 2013

A series of intense storms in the Arctic has caused fracturing of the sea ice around the Beaufort Sea along the northern coasts of Alaska and Canada. High-resolution imagery from the Suomi NPP satellite shows the evolution of the cracks forming in the ice, called leads, from February 17 — March 18 2013. The general circulation of the area is seen moving the ice westward along the Alaskan coast

“Intense storms” are not an unheard of thing in the arctic. What’s new is that the ice is so fragile that normal storm activity is breaking it up much earlier than has been seen in the past.

Arctic Sea Ice Blog:

To recapitulate: It is normal for the ice to crack and for leads to occur. However, this is very extensive cracking and there are some very big leads, and all of it seems to come earlier than expected. Given last year’s melting mayhem and the low amount of multi-year ice, it makes one wonder whether this early cracking will have any effect in the melting season to come.

There are still several weeks to go before this part of the Arctic is going to start melting, up till then the ice will actually thicken some more, even when the Sun’s rays start to reach the ice. But the ice is already getting broken up in smaller pieces, which means that 1) the pack becomes more mobile (like we saw last year), and 2) the thin ice that now grows to fill up the leads will go first when the melting starts, potentially leading to more open water between floes to absorb solar energy and convert it to heat.

But maybe not. Maybe this will have zero influence. We don’t know. That’s why we watch.

Nothing more to add except to ponder on what strange weather we will be experiencing this year!  Actually, no need to ponder.  The UK Met Office issued a weather warning last Sunday that included this sentence, “Cold easterly winds will persist through the coming week with bitterly cold conditions.”  That came on the back of a blog entry from the Met Office that same day that included:

Many areas also saw strong winds, with a gust of 61 mph recorded at Shap, Cumbria and 48 mph recorded at Machrihanish, Argyll . These winds have caused even deeper drifts of snow in some areas. [my emphasis].

61mph?  That’s Storm Force 10 under the Beaufort scale and 3mph under the lower boundary of a Violent Storm; Beaufort Force 11!


The next item that caught my eye was some ‘goodish’ news from the US Senate via a recent post on 350.org.

Bill’s Response to the Senate Vote Today

Posted by Duncan Meisel – 03/22/13, 4:51pm


After a very chaotic week on Capitol Hill, I wanted to write you with an update on what just happened in the Senate today.

First and foremost: the oil industry’s Senators did not manage to pass legislation that would force President Obama to build Keystone XL.

Because you — and people like you, all across the country — jumped into action this week, they backtracked and instead held a vote on a nonbinding resolution that says it would be nice to build the pipeline, but doesn’t actually do much about it. For that vote, they got the stomach-churning number of 62 Senators to vote with them. As usual, the ones who had taken the most money from the fossil fuel industry lined up to cast their votes—the cosponsors of the bill, on average, had taken $807,000 in dirty energy money.

Now, this amounts to symbolic chest thumping by the oil industry: showing just how many Senators they can get to jump when told to. It’s not the worst thing that could have happened, but it reminds everyone why, in one recent poll, congress had approval ratings lower than head lice and colonoscopies — even on the symbolic stuff, they can’t get it together to stand up to the oil industry guys cutting them checks.

In a certain way though, this vote couldn’t come at a better time. Congress is going on break, and for the next two weeks, these 62 Senators will be back in their home states, doing things like meeting with constituents — people like you.

Home states are where some of the most heroic work took place the last week — in Minneapolis, say, where 150 350MN.org activists showed up on very short notice at Sen. Klobuchar’s office in a snowstorm to tell her to vote no on Keystone (and she did, it should be added).

If you’re interested in following in the fine example of those leaders who held actions at their senators offices, you have a chance in the next two weeks.

We’re looking for people who can step up to lead, and then we’ll put the 350 network into action to get people to join you. If you want to lead an action, just click here to tell us when you’d like to do so: act.350.org/survey/kxl-senate-accountability-2013/

Look, there are two ways to react to a democracy for sale. One is to walk away in disgust, which is what the Koch Brothers count on. The other is to stand up and say: no more. If you visit your Senator, take some pictures or some video so we can share them around. It’s time to build this broader fossil fuel resistance.

And remember, Capitol Hill is not the center of the world. Around the country this week our friends at Tar Sands Blockade have been actively targeting Keystone investors; faith groups have been hauled off to jail in front of the White House to protest the pipeline; and the divestment campaign has expanded off college campuses and into municipal and state governments.

The movement is doing amazing stuff — we just need more of it. We can’t outspend the oil industry, but we can out-organize them. In fact, we have to.


Bill McKibben


the cosponsors of the bill, on average, had taken $807,000 in dirty energy money.”  Words utterly fail me!

Funny old world!