Human civilization is represented in these pictures from around the world:
Most cities require massive amounts of energy, even at night. These energy sources come from nuclear, hydro, wind, solar, thermal, coal, gas and oil fired power plants, each which is a carbon emitting source contributing to the pollution of the Earth’s atmosphere.
Their structures, the buildings, towers, glass, steel, copper and concrete used in their design and construction is carbon and energy intensive.
Many of the world’s cities are densely packed with human literally living on top of one another. Homes, office and factories are “stacked” high into the sky as available space dwindles.
All of these structures require heating, cooling, water and waste management in order to survive. They all require a daily food source for the human occupants which must be trucked in from long distances.
The distribution network of freeways, highways, bridges, roads, driveways and even elevators represents a massive investment in terms of cost and resources removed from the environment.
Only the constant supply of food and fuel keep these structures and the people within them alive. The staggering amounts of energy required is all from fossil fuel sources.
Thousands of these ships ply the world’s oceans, non-stop.
Carbon-intensive by design, this infrastructure survives only by a constant and continued expenditure of energy and resource inputs from the global environment.
It is only by ‘movement’ does civilization actually survive. Everything humans require to sustain life must now be moved from one place to another. Water, food, fuel, clothing, materials, metals, energy, commodities are transported from incredible distances by ships, trains, planes and trucks, and redistributed around the world.
There are thousands upon thousands of these cities all over the globe. Each and every single one represents a incredible amount of extracted resources, energy consumption, population density and carbon emissions.
The surface (and atmosphere) of the Earth has been entirely transformed by these cities. The resources required to build, maintain and expand civilization in this manner has never been completely calculated.
Entire countries can be seen at night, reflecting what humans have accomplished and how energy intensive we’ve become.
It’s almost impossible actually convey how much humans have changed the Earth. Our infrastructure is only one part of this change. There are also dramatic and irreversible changes occurring in the soil, water, air and oceans. The majority of these changes occurred within the last 100 years as cheap energy made exploiting these resources “easy”.
We’ve also taken over the countryside with extensive ‘suburban sprawl’.
Densely packed, each home represents a fantastic amount of energy and resource required to build and maintain, all which is still carbon intensive.
Each home must be supplied with power, water, roads and at a minimum, a heating source.
Access to food is done by building supermarkets and distribution points from factory farms spread throughout the world. The true real-life dependency that this represents for the human occupants of the planet is incredible. Not one of these people could survive without all of this infrastructure being fully operational.
Nearly every square available inch where humans can easily build has been overtaken by the human community.
Constant growth requires a constant supply of energy sources, raw materials and the room to grow. At every step of the way, the carbon contribution to the atmosphere continues to rise higher and higher, making climate change ever the worse.
Even ‘paradise’ has now been overtaken by human construction and infrastructure. Even the air is poisoned in these once-pristine regions.
Be careful about what you view online, in the movies and in magazines. Most images are photo-shopped to remove any ‘negative’ implications. Air pollution remains a gigantic problem.
Cities, factories, homes, cars, trucks and industrial pollution all emit staggering quantities of toxic gasses into the atmosphere, part of which is carbon dioxide warming the planet, but carbon dioxide is not the only gas we’re emitting.
The total number of chemical being released into the breathable atmosphere is now in the thousands, with millions of tons being dumped every year. (1)
We’ve also damned up thousands and thousands of waterways, rivers and streams in order to redirect their water flow and energy towards humans. Only 2% of the nation’s rivers remain unimpeded. This has resulted in poor water quality, bio-accumulation of toxic chemicals and a dramatic decline in bio-diversity.
Dam construction is heavily dependent upon concrete and steel, one of the worse carbon emitting sources on the planet. Enormous amounts of these materials are used in even a small dam.
There are also tens of thousands of ‘tailing dams’ around the world. These dams temporarily ‘hold back’ billions of tons of toxic water and minerals. Many have failed causing extensive and near-permanent pollution downstream and in the surrounding communities.
One of the most notorious tailing dam locations of all is found in Alberta, where there are thousands of these toxic chemical dumps. The incidence of chemical poisonings, tumors and sickness in the communities downstream has risen dramatically. Each of these dams must be maintained to prevent failure. Many aren’t.
Massive tracts of the Earth’s surface have been extensively modified for human food production. Unfolding over thousands of years now, we’ve overtaken all of the productive land available.
Each farm produces carbon dioxide. Each farm requires constant attention and maintenance, with inputs of energy, fuel, fertilizer and water. None of these are ‘carbon free’ or even close to carbon neutral. The food products produced requires even more energy for their processing and distribution – all which is carbon-intensive through our distribution network
And then the entire energy intensive, carbon-emitting process is repeated by consumers the world over – many who drive cars to the supermarkets to obtain their daily sustenance. The cars, fuel, roads, stores, houses, refrigerator, electricity – all carbon emitting.
Nothing about this cycle of ‘farm to consumption’ is clean, non-pollutive, low-energy or carbon free. There’s nothing ‘healthy’ about any of this either.
It’s actually impossible to pictorially convey the sheer ‘size’ of the problem we have as a civilization. There isn’t a camera format large enough on the planet to do this. There is a good video series on Netflix, “Vuduciel, Earth From Above” that tries to convey the magnitude of the damage we are inflicting. I recommend that every that can watch it, to see each episode.
Consider this relatively ‘tiny’ crowd of people and what each face represents:
Each of these people requires food, water, fuel, transportation, housing, energy and space – and the income to pay for it all. There are billions and billions more people that can’t be shown, each with the same requirements.
None are truly carbon neutral. None are carbon free. Nothing about the human existence, i.e, ‘life itself’ is non-carbon emitting anymore. It is the opposite that is actually true, all over the world.
Proponents of the carbon free / carbon neutral concept carefully avoid these types of comparisons because simple pictures reveal how utterly impossible it is going to be to achieve a human civilization like ours that is carbon neutral. We’re not even going to come close.
We’ve had to mechanize food production on a global scale in order to feed the human population which continues to grow. Armies of food workers are required within the factories around the world. This isn’t going to change.
Each worker like each face in the crowd picture above, requires the same exact things as every other human on the planet: air, food, water, air, space, energy, housing and heat. All elements which are being polluted, consumed and used up. At every step of the way, carbon-intensive, emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in a non-stop escalation of planetary warming.
I’m not trying to convey blame upon humans. None of us seem to realize our sheer numbers or our true impacts. Nor do we seem to recognize the gigantic scale of our civilization. But now we do. Now we know. Now we can understand that changing this civilization to something better and different is absolutely necessary. But the task seems utterly impossible – because it is.
We’ve had to exploit virtually EVERY planetary resource to sustain human civilization. The whole of the animal kingdom has become our insatiable demand. There are too many of us and we’ve long since turned to factory farming and processing to exploit even these resources. The slaughter we’ve engaged upon is hard to take:
There is nothing at all about this food production process that is carbon neutral either. Not even if we all stopped eating meat. Industrialized production of food requires huge sources of energy in order to be possible. Most of this energy comes from oil, including the fertilizers and pesticides.
But it’s more then just land that we’ve changed, we’ve even scraped clean the bottom of the world’s oceans, wiping out entire ecosystems in the deep seas.
Trawlers have destroyed millions of square miles of the ocean floor every year. Millions of tons of ‘waste fish’ species are simple tossed overboard. This has resulted in a collapse of marine animals worldwide. Thousands of these ships cruise the ocean at all hours of the day and night. All burn fuel oil, one of the most pollutive energy sources in use.
Gigantic nets are being used to trawl the deep ocean floor, scraping the bottom virtually clean of any life. Somehow, we’re led to believe, this will continue indefinitely. Yet we intuitively know that this simply isn’t possible. There’s not much left.
But humans are doing much more then over-fish the oceans, we’re also using them as a gigantic garbage dump for our refuse:
Every tide brings about a ‘reminder’ of what humans are doing to the oceans.
Some beaches and coastlines are so bad that they must be cleaned up daily.
The world’s oceans are literally covered with this human filth which only very slowly breaks down into the environment over hundreds to thousands of years, but not without leaching toxic chemicals in the process. The impact upon marine life is staggering.
We’re doing a lot of damage on virtually everything (still) alive:
Whether land, sea, forest or even the air, humans have ‘terraformed’ the Earth is dramatic and destructive ways, impacting ecosystems and habitats beyond repair.
Boreal, temperate and tropical forests have been cut down, slashed and burned to ‘make way’ for human activity and production.
The transformation in the far north is absolutely mind blowing. Human demand for hydrocarbons is so severe that even sand (bitumen) is being boiled to extract energy.
Thousands of example images like this exist. Forests around the world are being eradicated.
Readers should note that all of these destructive carbon-intensive practices by civilization continue unabated to this day.
Readers should also note that every picture represents the following facts:
a) Resource extraction, whether plant, animal, energy, mineral or water is a highly intensive carbon-emitting process, all which still requires liquid energy (petroleum, usually). None depict any possibility of being ‘carbon free’ or non-emitting of greenhouse gasses.
b) The assumption that humanity is going to stop any of these practices is naive. It would have been far easier to do so when these resources were plentiful and easily obtained and humans could have ‘afforded’ to stop (because we could have still survived), but not now. Now, civilization cannot stop because it is a matter of survival for the present population. The only way we can now actually stop or change in any meaningful way is to dramatically reduce population.
c) Every picture represents ‘corporation’ and ‘mega-nationals’ ownership, including the picture of the crowds (they own you and control you, you are alive because of what they do). Profit driven and ‘competitive’, their lack of compassion and concern and their dismally poor stewardship of planetary resources has been a primary driver behind all this destruction.
There are millions of these entities now, who have been given by law more ‘rights’ then real humans have. They have monetized most of the planetary resources (including you) now to be used as their private ‘assets’ in league with governments around the world.
d) These entities literally control the fate of the world. All species, all life, all sources of food, housing, energy, all possibility of ‘change’. Profits will be demanded at all times – or no change. Improvements to the quality of life, the environment or even just the ‘maintenance’ of civilization (daily survival) is decided by money managers. The world is going to have to ‘pay’ these owners in order to effect any change (just like we do now).
e) Individuals believe that they can change their own lives and thereby change these destructive practices. This is not true because ownership and control of the resources hasn’t changed or how they are being used (exploited). The global monopoly on the essential resources for life and human existence will simply shift gears as they have always done to remain in control (and profitable).
Individuals can no longer sustain themselves (live) without these entities ‘providing the essentials’ (and non-essentials) for daily living. We do not have enough resources left to us (land, water, temperate climate, time, money, skills, etc.) to do so. We are now all forced to buy what we need to live in exchange for daily labor.
Small individual changes have little to no effect upon global impacts. Stop eating meat, fish or corn (or whatever) and the corporations which simply adjust by shifting and expanding the market while still exploiting these and new ‘resources’ in other ways.
f) Global ‘cooperation’ is a myth. It’s never happened. Only a limited number of individuals, countries or nations will ‘agree’ to cooperation at any given time and only by degrees. The rest will either abstain or violate any agreements ‘decided’ with or without them. It doesn’t matter what their reasons are, the point being is there is no such thing as a global agreement or adherence to a global agreements. This sells airtime and nothing more. It’s also impossible to enforce. Bans on fishing, whaling, cement production, population growth, deforestation, pollution, drugs – whatever it is, will only every achieve a limited amount of cooperation.
This means that humans on a global scale, can only ever ‘slow down’ somewhat (use less) but never completely. There will always be violators, exploiters and profiteers (black market) to contend with. This is why we will lose critical endangered species despite a global ban on their slaughter and their protection status. We can slow things down a bit – and that’s all.
This principle applies to carbon emissions too because the very fabric of civilization is in reality, an oil-soaked rag that we have come to depend upon, we can’t survive without it. At best, we could slow things down (ever so slightly), but it won’t stop – and it won’t be enough. The planet will continue to heat up through human emissions. Waste levels will continue to escalate and the environment will continue to decline – even if there was no such thing as global warming. In other words – we are going to lose our habitat, our only home, no matter what.
g) Carbon neutral or zero-carbon is a myth and intentionally being promoted to distract us from the horrible truth. There is no such thing as carbon neutral in the modern world. Each picture above represents a massive investment in fossil fuels, some consumed long ago, in order to create what you can see in the picture. The pictures also reveal what it takes to sustain these things and keep them running. In point of fact, nearly any image that I could find depicting any element of civilization would represent a significant oil derived, carbon emitting source for the creation and maintenance of civilization.
It’s incredibly naive and disingenuous to think that we are going to somehow ‘modify’ all this activity and destruction to become ‘carbon neutral’. It’s far, far too late for that, even if civilization could come full-stop today. Massive levels of greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide and methane will continue to be ejected into the atmosphere by our dying civilization no matter what we do now. We have no means at all to stop this or even slow it down sufficiently.
By design, modern human civilization is carbon intensive. It was built by exploiting hydrocarbon resources. It is maintained by expending hydrocarbon resources. It can’t even be modified much without hydrocarbon resources. It is a myth that we’re going to (somehow) change all of this without hydrocarbons. There is no global cooperation. There is no slowdown of civilization. There is no reason at all to believe that we can all change our lifestyles, or our demands upon the environment or how we will go on treating the planet and exploiting its remaining resources.
We’re going to continue doing what we’ve always done – that’s why we’re here today with this problem instead of having any of this fixed. The ‘proof’ as it were of what we are going to do, what we can do, and whether we will continue to do this – is right in front of us.
So we’re stuck. There is only one possible ‘alternative’ route that lies ahead which I’ll cover in another article.
Update: Desdemona Despair has exquisitely timed a highly pertinent post: 50 doomiest stories of 2015. Worth reading.