This is such a cool title. But it’s really not my creation, despite this topic being my ‘day job’ for the past twenty years. So I’ll borrow the title if nobody minds.
This is where you can find the original title and article about how climate scientists are increasingly gloomy about our chances for survival. It’s been posted here before, but I should still let everyone know what the title really came from.
My day job, as it were, has been to write about the collapse of our civilization from the perspective of a keenly interested observer. While I am not a scientist, I have very often used the published work of scientists to support my position. Expert knowledge is more valuable then simple opinion. It’s also usually right.
Many of the top world’s scientists are now expressing doubts about what humanities future will really be. It most certainly will not be business as usual. The old paradigms of civilization and sustenance are fast falling away. Civilization is about providing the sustenance required for the human population on the planet. Everything else is a subset of this essential need, be it energy, resources, land or commerce.
Experts are essential – but they are not the end all, be all – and they can miss some very important points. I supposed that they would eventually figure this out (isn’t that what experts do?) but in any case, there is plenty of room on the table for non-experts to weigh in. And that’s what I’ve done here for many, many years. Using the published data and information with regards to our civilization, environment, economy, politics and climate, I’ve weighed in many times on what I thought our chances really are.
It’s been over twelve years since this particular blog has been in operation, but there were two forums prior to this, and a newsletter, and even before all of that, a monthly publication during my years in the ministry. I’ve learned a great deal and have sought to always better my understanding and expectations while refining my own ‘predictions’. These are really projections, based upon the current knowledge and trends. They’re not always accurate, but they have been close enough.
I’m not just an observer, I’m also a participant. Like all of you, I’m still here too, trying to navigate through this morass that we call civilization. And like you, it’s not always been easy, pleasant or much fun. But I do very much like being here and would hope to stick around for a long time to come. Existence is incredibly valuable to those that still have it. We take it for granted – far too often, and that should change. I find myself measuring each and every moment, trying to ‘fill it’ as it were, with meaning, value and appreciation. Our busy lives all to often rob us of truly valuable experiences unless we slow down and truly live in the experience.
There are certainly more fun things to do then being a blogger about the end of human civilization. After closing Survival Acres, I had hoped to go off and do some of these fun things. I haven’t been fishing in many, many years, or camping or any number of things. I’ve got a bicycle that I’ve never ridden. All I ever ‘did’ was work non-stop, trying to prepare a homestead for my family and provide for their future. I built everything that I could, while I could. I didn’t mind, and I still don’t, but I do wonder about experiences I missed.
But I did get to attend my children’s weddings. I did get to spend many wonderful years with my beautiful wife. I finally found a little corner where I could sit down and enjoy the sunsets. Being alive does offer a great deal of hope and joy – if you can appreciate what you have. But each day, impinging upon this life is the news, ever the more dire, destroying the tranquility and peace of a quiet life. And that’s what we’ve all probably come to expect when you think about it. The upheavals to our civilization won’t be quiet, tame or peaceful (although they could be if we so chose). Humans don’t have to fight – we can cooperate, but I think it’s pretty obvious that we’d rather fight.
Humankind being what it is, we’ve opted once again for ‘delay tactics’ while we fiddle around with the deciding ‘what can be done’ about our growing predicament.
This delay is quite ridiculous when you think about it. We don’t have a choice about what can be done. We’re going to face these issues no matter what and it would be far, far easier to do this sooner rather then later. But we ignored the warnings 20, 40 even 60 years ago, and we’re still saddled with the same (or worse) caliber of political leadership as then. It’s long since quit being a question about what the climate might do – we absolutely know enough now, the only question that remains is what are WE willing to do about it?
So far, the answer has been ‘not much’. I do not subscribe to the lip-service and empty promises that fill the hallowed halls of politicians and media types. Frankly, I want to see real results. I want to see real meaningful changes. But everyday, as I document the decline of our planetary world, I am constantly finding evidence that it is only lip services and empty promises still being made.
So I tried to do something on my own. I stopped driving (12 years now), I built a greenhouse, a garden, a root cellar, raised chickens and rabbits. I got my own carbon footprint down by staying home, quite a lot, and eating as local as I could. I regularly visited the farmers market support local farmers. I recycled my own trash where possible. I bought used clothing and reused everything I could. I even changed a few lightbulbs. But it wasn’t ever going to be enough. Not even close. It didn’t take me long at all to realize that this was never really going to work on a meaningful scale.
It’s not true that “changing lightbulbs” will change the course of our civilization. It’s still a light bulb after all. It’s still fossil-fuel powered (no matter where the energy comes from, be it hydro, wind, solar, nuclear, gas or coal). It’s still a part of the present paradigm that we can all still have everything that we want, when we want, and when we’re done with it, we can toss it away. In reality, nothing has really changed. And if you closely examine the proposals, efforts and projects being done around the world, that’s also what you will find. Nothing is really changing. Nothing is going to change either.
It’s cold here, with a short growing season. I couldn’t even begin to grow the necessary calories I needed to sustain even one person for a year, so I quit trying to do this. Instead, I eat from the garden ‘seasonally’. This was a lot less work and a lot less frustration. I’m doing it because I can, not because it’s a better idea. The better idea would of course be to grow all my own food, but it can’t be done. Not here. And it’s like that in many parts of the world. So in truth, we’re still stuck with our global delivery system of food. It can be greatly modified, streamlined and improved – but it’s not going to be hugely different then what we have today. And that my friends, is a big problem. It’s a far bigger problem then is being recognized by this ‘non-scientist’.
If we are all supposed to dramatically reduce our own carbon footprints, then we need to seriously discuss how to do this. Are we going to stay home? Take mass transit? What are we going to do for employment? There is no one size fits all answer. Many, many populated regions of the world can’t do any of these things much differently then how they are being done today. Once the fossil fuel paradigm is broken via ‘carbon emissions’, it’s game over for these people. I’m one of them. And so are most, if not all of you.
I could move. I could try for a ‘job’. I could change my lifestyle. But I can’t change (much) what I need to live. And neither can you. We all remain highly dependent upon civilization, and that’s not going to change much.
So who is going to provide those planet-saving lightbulbs? And the transportation? And the food? And our ability to go get it? A entire civilization built upon liquid fuels has inherent dependencies that are not easily changed (which is why it hasn’t). In some cases – they can’t be changed at all.
Let me give you one example, but a primary one, which I’m familiar with. Most of the world – as in the very large majority – is highly dependent upon our just in time delivery system for food. You can live without electricity – or a job – or a new pair of shoes, but you won’t live long without food. That food is being produced by major agricultural corporations operating all around the world. After it’s been harvested by mechanized machinery, processed at factories and distribution centers, it’s packaged up and shipped by train, trucks, ships and planes, eventually winding its way to a store shelf somewhere near to you.
How are we going to change that? Since agriculture is the largest carbon emitter of all human activity – there is virtually no question that this needs to change (at every level). We can encourage “grow your own” (if you can), but many can’t (and won’t). We can restrict what we grow, and what we ship, but a monetized profit-oriented world simply won’t go along with any of that. We can change our agricultural practices – and that will probably be done. But we’re not going to change much else. Not our dependency on delivered food products, not our current population levels, not our demands for exotic fruits and vegetables from the far reaches of the world, and not our global shipping system that can deliver a Pepsi to anywhere in the world in a matter of hours. All of it 100% fossil fuel driven. All of it creating even more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each and every day.
It’s pretty obvious to me that we’ve yet to even understand the real scope of what we’re facing. Or to finally admit that we can’t quit fossil fuels ‘like we thought’. Not without destroying our civilization and dramatically reducing our populations. That might happen anyway, but the transition from this civilization to the next (which is still all theory) is going to prove to be incredibly difficult – if not impossible without extreme ‘discomfort’. In other words, it’s going to kill a great many people through conflict, deprivation and starvation.
I’ve seen the claims of ‘efficiencies’ that can be achieved in agriculture – but I am unimpressed. Even this won’t stop our continued carbon emissions and we’re already at the point in reality that we can’t emit anything more (don’t believe the advertising that says otherwise, some good people have pointed this fact out). So everything still contributing to emissions is just making a big, bad and ugly problem even uglier and harder for us to solve. Every single day. While our leaders ‘dicker’ and ‘negotiate’.
Nothing is still being done about population, so what’s the point if population growth is going to continue, destroying any possible efficiencies gained anywhere? We’re deceiving ourselves in a monumental way. If 7 billion humans have managed to ruin the biosphere – what does anyone suppose 9 billion will do? Yet population growth remains on the agenda throughout most of the world. It’s the goal of most humans. It’s not even being connected to climate change, environmental collapse or resource exhaustion.
Frankly, I don’t find any real evidence that most humans are actually truly serious about climate change, or limited resources, or conservation, or preserving anything that is left (which extends far, far beyond the common principles of conservation). Those that are are lost voices in the wilderness and nobody is listening to their pleas. We are only willing to do just so much so that we can continue the present civilization as long as possible, and this willingness actually translates into very small meaningless changes. There can be no doubt at all that this means we’re going to keep wasting whatever time humanity does have left before we too, join the 6th Great Extinction.
Studies have shown that we are only capable of making huge changes when we have no other choice – and not before catastrophe has already occurred. What is notable about this documented effect however, has been the ability and opportunity to extract ourselves (survive) before total self-annihilation. I suggest to everyone reading this – that this time, it’s different. Not only has there never been 7+ billion people that need to change their lifestyles (all at once, obviously some more then others), there is an entire global civilization and infrastructure that needs to change. There are many, many “first time” qualities like this that all indicate and even individually indicate that we cannot do this as we have assumed. Let me list a few more examples.
Humans have never lived with 400 ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We assume we can change this to prevent catastrophic warming and ice melt (sea level rise being but one of the hundreds of negative effects), but only because “we’ve solved other problems” despite NEVER having tackled a problem on this scale. Meanwhile, emissions keep going up. Every single day. And we can’t ‘replace’ the missing ice now.
We have never faced a rapidly escalating temperature gradient like the one we have today. We assume we can ‘harden’ our infrastructure or simply rebuild each time something gets destroyed. But what if our destroyed infrastructure winds up being our food supply? 795,000,000 are either already hungry or starving. We can’t even fix this.
Discussions of ‘vertical farming’ in abandoned building are a serious distraction (red herring) on the reality that such facilities are still fossil-fueled dependent for virtually everything (except sunshine, but you have include soil, water, heat, cooling, harvesting, transportation, packaging and even the process of consumption in your calculations of carbon emissions and fossil fuel dependencies) and they don’t produce anywhere near enough calories to support the current population – even if massively scaled up. They’re not going to save our food supply from an overheated planet or a wrecked climate.
We have never faced an extinction event like the one occurring in the biosphere today. We assume we can ‘get on without these creatures’ but what if we can’t? The world’s fisheries are all in a state of collapse with current estimates of a ‘food free oceans’ in just 35 years. 2 billion people rely on seafood now – what about ‘then’?
We assume the methane hydrates, permafrost melt, Arctic disappearance, Greenland melt, and Western Antarctic Ice Sheet (just to name a few – there are many more) are ‘problems’ humans can still solve or at least, manage to deal with. Hold on – there is absolutely NO evidence of that. We can’t even move Miami out of the flood zone yet, and we just rebuilt New Orleans below sea level.
We assume that we even have the resources to pull this all off. But we already well know that all the ‘low-hanging fruit’ from the planetary environment has long since been consumed. Moreover, we’ve destroyed over 30% of the world’s topsoil, wiped out the vast majority of the world’s major forests, depleted the oceans of food while filling them with toxins, trash and radioactive waste, built nuclear power plants that we can’t even dispose of, redirected critical water supplies in incredibly stupid ways, built cities and towns where they should have never existed, paved over valuable and essential lands and habitats, heck – we can’t even dispose of our monumental garbage we produce correctly! The terraforming and trashing of the planet that we’ve ‘accomplished’ now is quite significant – and largely forever irreversible.
And perhaps one of the greatest assumption of all – we assume that we have the technical capability, the political leadership, the financial means and the resources to solve all of this and much, much more that I’ve touched on in other articles. So where is the proof of any of these assumptions? We haven’t solved any of it despite abundant opportunity and awareness. We’re just charging ahead very much like before (i.e., changing light bulbs, or as the case may be, solar panels), changing next to nothing about the fundamental demands and requirements of our civilization. We can’t even bring ourselves to seriously talk about this, let alone take the painful steps to change it.
So who’s kidding who here? I’ve tried for years and years to lay it out, bit by bit, in my own fashion to try and convey that we’re in deep, deep doo doo. It was ‘okay’ (ignored) as long as our environment continued to sustain us – but it’s no longer okay because the environment if failing, faster and faster now.
So when can we start having serious discussions about these ridiculous assumptions we have? When can we lay it all out on the table and see what cards we really hold? Don’t expect much here – politicians and industry are categorically refusing to even allow such discussions to be entertained seriously. They don’t expect to have to worry about it if they can hold off disaster for a few more years while the planet plundering continues.
Remember – it’s not what they say – but what they do that really ‘counts’. This cuts through all the hogwash, propaganda and deceptions going on. If you really, really want to understand what humanity, industry, government or any entity intends to do – just go look at what they’re doing now and what they’ve been doing. You can then easily project what they’re most likely to continue to do. And that is exactly what we find all around the world and why the news is always so damned depressing. Nobody is even addressing the root causes of our constant failures to come up with real changes that will matter.
Here’s what I’d like to see – a real city or sizeable town (100,000+) ‘convert’ over to sustainable living and zero carbon emissions – across the board. Nobody is exempt. Everybody is required to participate. This would affect jobs, production, consumption, transportation, medicine, politics and government. Show us how it can really be done. Work out the bugs, problems and issues. Solve the waste management issues, consumption, food production and consumer ‘demands’. Don’t leave anything out.
That my friends, does not exist. But it obviously needs to. There are some small steps being made by cities and towns around the world where you can take mass transit, ride a bike, eat local, generate solar power and so on. None of these efforts has created a sustainable town or city, not even close. None are zero-carbon. But you will read tons of propaganda about these efforts and how completely ‘sustainable’ they are. Unfortunately, it’s not true.
It bears mentioning again – our current civilization is not sustainable and never will be. It cannot be because it has created too many external dependencies within the existing human communities. Therefore, it is just as true that this civilization will simply never be zero-carbon. Here’s why: Communities (cities, towns, villages) that cannot 100% support all human activity independent of any other community are by definition, non-sustainable. The local environment will not keep them (all) alive, housed, fed, clothed or employed. This then means that inter-community commerce is required, and this too is not zero carbon or sustainable in the true definition of the words (not anymore, and not likely in the foreseeable future).
It is apparent that human civilization on the scale we seem to want will never again be sustainable. Nor will it ever again be zero carbon (magical inventions notwithstanding, but they’re unlikely to ever exist and therefore, I will ignore this hopium). And we need to admit to this because as a goal, it’s never going to happen. So it really makes no sense at all to pretend we’re going to go ‘zero-carbon’ when we obviously can’t. And it makes even less sense to declare COP 21 a ‘success’ on any level when it has completely failed to solve anything. It’s not good enough – and we should never settle for ‘second best’ at this stage (I’m being generous here).
Therefore, we need to redefine what the goal really is. And unlike now, we need to be brutally honest about it. It will need to include all those things nobody like to talk about, such as population, consumption, monetization of the planetary environment and corporate control of the fate of humanity (this is the short list). Does everybody still realize that we’re are all still literally chained to the profiteers to try and ‘turn this thing around’? How is that going to work out for good?
The ‘end of human civilization’ may be my day job, but I’ve only got a lot more questions now then answers. My world – your world, has not changed (at all) in meaningful ways. We’ve had years and years to get it together, and we’re still failing miserably. All I ever read now is how we’re going to somehow preserve this incredibly wasteful, destructive and capricious civilization with hopey-happy-opium (hopium).
No we’re not. Let’s not do this. It would be insane for us to continue this anyway.