The Jaded Prole

A Progressive Worker's Perspective on the political and cultural events of our time.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Welcome to the Anthropocene

What bothers me
is not so much that we
clever apes are driving ourselves to extinction.
There is at least some humor and
irony in that
and a lesson to be learned
by someone --

What really bothers me
is that we are taking
the rest of the living world with us
plants and animals of all kinds
life can never be the same --
is already changed

What drives me to distraction
is that we know better
that a very few of us
who know better
are destroying life on earth
for the most selfish shortsighted and venal
of reasons

What bothers and puzzles me most
is why we let them.

I write this at a moment where a good portion of Norfolk, VA, the city where I live is flooded due to a relatively mild tropical storm. The flooding is thus far limited to the usual places. That there are usual places, a growing number of them, is symptomatic of a larger issue; the largest issue of our time. Aside from storm-driven tidal surges, our area has seen a significant increase in “sunny day” flooding over the last few decades. Norfolk and much of the east coast, due in part to geographical sinking resulting from subsidence, is especially vulnerable to rising seas resulting from global warming. That warming is not an abstraction happening in some future. It is now.

A gathering of climate scientists at the International Geological Congress in Cape Town, South Africa a few weeks ago declared that, based on all evidence, the Anthropocene Epoch has officially begun. In fact, it began in the mid 1950's. This is a planetary shift to a new geological state of existence beyond what has been called the Holocene: some 12,000 years of climate stability, which emerged after the last ice age, which allowed human civilization to create itself. In the process, especially in the last two centuries, human activity has altered planet’s geological infrastructure. These noted experts announced, “Changes to the Earth system that characterize the Anthropocene Epoch include marked acceleration to rates of erosion and sedimentation; large-scale chemical perturbations to the cycles of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and other elements; the inception of significant change to global climate and sea level; and biotic changes such as unprecedented levels of species invasions across the Earth. Many of these changes are geologically long-lasting, and some are effectively irreversible. These and related processes have left an array of signals in recent strata, including plastic, aluminum and concrete particles, artificial radionuclides, changes to carbon and nitrogen isotope patterns, fly ash particles, and a variety of fossilizable biological remains. Many of these signals will leave a permanent record in the Earth's strata.” Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies stated, “In the last 30 years, we've really moved into exceptional territory. It's unprecedented in 1,000 years. There's no period that has the trend seen in the 20th century in terms of the inclination of temperatures."

What does all this mean for us? Much depends on how we react to the information science provides us. 2016 has been the hottest year on record globally since records have been kept. The changes we are already seeing, that are happening now and rapidly building on themselves, include: massive storms and droughts, increased methane release, climate and geologic instability, increasingly acidic rising seas with growing dead zones, melting arctic ice and glaciers, rising disease rates and mass migrations. A recent report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature involving the work of 80 scientists from a dozen countries has found the ocean warming faster than expected with dangerous consequences including threats to sea life, fisheries, and coastal areas as well as the grave possibility of more powerful hurricanes and greater methane release. We are also witnessing animal and plant die-offs which have lead to this era being referred to as the sixth mass extinction. These climate-based changes have causes, most of which are directly related to our industrial way of life over the last two centuries.

The burning of fossil fuels is the primary cause but only a part of it. Our cultural view of the world around us as an accumulation of useful commodities to be exploited without a larger understanding of the connections and implications is the larger issue. This view has dominated our thinking since the 17th century. It has lead to slavery and brutal conquest, to colonialism, massive deforestation and the geological degradations of mining, massive monoculture farming, and toxic industrial sacrifice zones. Our material way of living, our expectations, and our economies continue to depend on this model. It is a model of unending growth in a finite reality. It is a model that equates happiness with material accumulation. It is a model of destruction for the elusive fantasy of wealth very few of us will achieve.

Because wealth is tied to these destructive practices and because that wealth is so intimately woven with political power, it is difficult to address, much less change what we are doing to ourselves. Fracking is a good example of this. Hydraulic fracturing as a way of mining for natural gas makes people near the operations sick, even killing some. It poisons our water and deep aquifers, destabilizes the ground causing earthquakes as we've seen recently in Oklahoma, and it leaks massive amounts of methane, one of the most powerful greenhouse gasses, into the atmosphere. It is a prime driver of planetary warming with methane rich atmospheric areas over our continent visible from space. NASA reports observing a methane "hot spot" in the Four Corners region of the American southwest directly related to leaks from natural gas extraction, processing, and distribution. Yet, as many communities inundated with fracking wells have found, the billions spent by the fossil fuel industry have far more influence on policy than do citizen protests. State Regulatory Commissions have a monopoly on power when it comes to environmental issues and they are subservient to industry. This undue influence is also true of other climate-destructive industries like mining, agribusiness (Monsanto and Cargill), and the meat industry.

The corrupted politics of corporate and fossil fuel influence on both official parties is reflected in the election options we have from the state to the national level. Republicans deny the science and reality of the climate crisis and openly support fossil fuel use, drilling, mining, pipelines and fracking. They loudly condemn any efforts to address, much less mention the issue and even oppose the existence of the EPA. Democrats acknowledge the issue but like our Governor, generally support drilling, fracking, pipeline projects and fossil fuel use, though with some environmental protections. Clinton's history of promoting fracking and her choice of former Interior Secretary and supporter of fracking and piplines Ken Salazar for her transition team speaks volumes.

What is obvious is that we cannot entrust our health, our safety or the protection of our environment to politicians supported by fossil fuel interests. We as citizens must be actively involved in protecting ourselves and our future. There is still much that can be done to mitigate climate change and to adapt our infrastructure and way of living to the realities we cannot change. There are serious efforts happening to confront the corrupting influence of big money and to defend our rights as citizens as well as our health and local environment. One of the most important of these is the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund or CELDF. This organization focuses on communities facing direct harm from from polluting corporations, whether fracking, drilling, factory farms, mining or other toxic efforts. CELDF offers low cost, experienced legal assistance to empower communities in defending themselves. This includes passing ordinances recognizing the rights of nature to exist and evolve unharmed as similar to the rights of children to do so. These ordinances also challenge corporate personhood. Thus far, over 200 communities have adopted CELDF-drafted Community Bills of Rights laws that move from merely regulating corporate harms to stopping those harms by asserting local, democratic control directly over their communities.

Other citizen organizations active in addressing the climate issue are The Betty Kester Alliance for a Healthy Future, The Ohio Community Rights Network and Greenpeace.

Beyond the limitations of legal efforts in our corporate oligarchy, direct action is growing as well. As I write this the Standing Rock Sioux and dozens of other tribes from the U.S. and Canada are physically resisting the construction of a proposed four-state pipeline that, if completed, would transport about 500,000 barrels of crude per day across their lands, threatening their water supply. Pipeline construction crews have already destroyed indigenous burial and cultural sites on private land in North Dakota. The conflict is escalating as private security hired by the Dakota Access Pipeline Company attack Native Americans defending their lands with attack dogs and pepper spray.

Last month, in an ongoing effort, local climate activists in Bellingham, Washington blocked coal trains. An effort we, as the largest coal port on the east coast might learn from. That people around the country are engaged directly in both civic actions, protests and civil disobedience is something that gives me hope.

Citizen action is having positive effects on government policy. The U.S and China recently agreed to formally sign the Paris climate agreement, reducing carbon emissions. China is one of the most polluted places on earth as well as the largest and growing economy. Its leader, Xi Jinping vowed to to "unwaveringly pursue sustainable development" as part of China's climate plan. Greenpeace East Asia's senior climate policy adviser Li Shuo stated that the pressure was on for Xi to move from agreement to action. Due to growing earthquakes, Oklahoma, a state largely run by fossil fuel interests, ordered oil and gas operators to shut down three dozen wastewater disposal wells following a 5.6-magnitude earthquake tied directly to fracking. Last month, Australia's Premier Daniel Andrews announced that the state is set to introduce a permanent ban on all onshore gas exploration and fracking. In Brazil, 72 cities have approved bans on fracking since the launch of the No Fracking Brazil campaign by There are indications that Alberta Canada will follow suit, curbing fracking due to earthquake activity and rising citizen activism.

Beyond reducing and stopping our use of fossil fuels, converting to sustainable energy sources like solar, wind, hydro, geothermal and other sources we need to reduce the carbon we have already emitted as well as the added water vapor our warmer atmosphere is holding which carries heat. This can be done by reforestation and by permaculture farming which returns carbon from the atmosphere to the soil.

Though we are seeing some progress, it isn't nearly enough. Time is not on our side. It is vital that we have leadership that puts public safety before corporate agendas and which has the ability to effectively protect us and to address the climate crisis. Politics and needed electoral reform aside, we must be that leadership. Citizen action is effective and crucial but it takes a lot of us to be heard. We must all be involved directly or in support of those who are.

What is most needed is a paradigm shift in our thinking, our cultural perspective and our way of living in this world, realizing that we are in fact the planet, you and I, the animals, plants and bacteria around us and within us -- inseparable and interdependent. That consciousness must be reflected in our moving away from thing-centric materialism, and species-centric thinking. It must shape how we act and what we eat. This change does not happen magically or in a vacuum. It happens by working with others for our common good. I see this conscious change happening, especially generationally. Beyond the construct of nation-states and tribal identities, the fate of our biosphere – of all living things that make up our small interdependent world depends on us.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Standing Up for Real Change

Sanders is showing the corporate class what is possible when one tells the truth. This election, like his rhetoric, is not about him. It's about the rest of us -- the 99%. As he states, without all of us, he would be powerless even if elected. The following article by economist Robert Reich gets to that point. Reich worked in the administration of Bill Clinton. He's seen the system up close and knows it. I have seen him progress from a relatively liberal Keynesian economist to a more progressive social democratic position. He knows the power brokers and the obstacles. Like Sanders he is not so much an idealist as a progressive realist

It Takes a Movement

By Robert Reich

In 2008, when then-Senator Barack Obama promised progressive change if elected President, his primary opponent, then-Senator Hillary Clinton, derided him.

“The skies will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing and everyone will know we should do the right thing and the world will be perfect,” she said, sarcastically, adding “I have no illusions about how hard this is going to be.

Fast forward eight years. "I wish that we could elect a Democratic president who could wave a magic wand and say, ‘We shall do this, and we shall do that,’” Clinton said recently in response to Bernie Sanders’s proposals. "That ain’t the real world we’re living in.“

So what’s possible in “the real world we’re living in?”

There are two dominant views about how presidents accomplish fundamental change.

The first might be called the “deal-maker-in-chief,” by which presidents threaten or buy off powerful opponents.

Barack Obama got the Affordable Care Act this way – gaining the support of the pharmaceutical industry, for example, by promising them far more business and guaranteeing that Medicare wouldn’t use its vast bargaining power to negotiate lower drug prices.

But such deals can be expensive to the public (the tab for the pharmaceutical exemption is about $16 billion a year), and they don’t really change the allocation of power. They just allow powerful interests to cash in.

The costs of such deals in “the world we’re living in” are likely to be even higher now. Powerful interests are more powerful than ever thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision opening the floodgates to big money.

Which takes us to the second view about how presidents accomplish big things that powerful interests don’t want: by mobilizing the public to demand them and penalize politicians who don’t heed those demands.

Teddy Roosevelt got a progressive income tax, limits on corporate campaign contributions, regulation of foods and drugs, and the dissolution of giant trusts – not because he was a great dealmaker but because he added fuel to growing public demands for such changes.

It was at a point in American history similar to our own. Giant corporations and a handful of wealthy people dominated American democracy. The lackeys of the “robber barons” literally placed sacks of cash on the desks of pliant legislators.

The American public was angry and frustrated. Roosevelt channeled that anger and frustration into support of initiatives that altered the structure of power in America. He used the office of the president – his “bully pulpit,” as he called it – to galvanize political action.

Could Hillary Clinton do the same? Could Bernie Sanders?

Clinton fashions her prospective presidency as a continuation of Obama’s. Surely Obama understood the importance of mobilizing the public against the moneyed interests. After all, he had once been a community organizer.

After the 2008 election he even turned his election campaign into a new organization called “Organizing for America” (now dubbed “Organizing for Action”), explicitly designed to harness his grassroots support.

So why did Obama end up relying more on deal-making than public mobilization? Because he thought he needed big money for his 2012 campaign.

Despite OFA’s public claims (in mailings, it promised to secure the “future of the progressive movement”), it morphed into a top-down campaign organization to raise big money.

In the interim, Citizens United had freed “independent” groups like OFA to raise almost unlimited funds, but retained limits on the size of contributions to formal political parties.

That’s the heart of problem. No candidate or president can mobilize the public against the dominance of the moneyed interests while being dependent on their money. And no candidate or president can hope to break the connection between wealth and power without mobilizing the public.

(A personal note: A few years ago OFA wanted to screen around America the movie Jake Kornbluth and I did about widening inequality, called “Inequality for All” – but only on condition we delete two minutes identifying big Democratic donors. We refused. They wouldn’t show it.)

In short, “the real world we’re living in” right now won’t allow fundamental change of the sort we need. It takes a movement.

Such a movement is at the heart of the Sanders campaign. The passion that’s fueling it isn’t really about Bernie Sanders. Had Elizabeth Warren run, the same passion would be there for her.

It’s about standing up to the moneyed interests and restoring our democracy.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Fighting Fascism on the Front Lines

A thread worth following on a site I follow. Russel "Texas" Bentley is fighting US fascism on the front lines in the Donbass, now Novorossiyaas it demanded independence following a CIA installed fascist coup in Ukraine.

Bentley is acting in the tradition of the Abraham Lincoln Brigades which fought the fascists in the Spanish Civil War. He goes further in getting real news out via Radio Free Donbass

We cannot all be on the front lines in places like Ukraine, but we are on the front lines here in the US -- the heart of the beast, as well. We can spread the truths working class heroes like Bentley put out as well as real news from progressive sources like DemocracyNow!, Common Dreams, People's World and The Intercept. We can and should work to elect Bernie Sanders as well as to push for the abolition of the CIA and national security state. We can and must help our working class citizens understand which side they are on with exposure to working class literature like the Blue Collar Review.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Saying the “F” Word

Words have power, and often baggage as well. The thoughtful article in the last issue of Veer magazine by Tom Robotham regarding the “N” word was a good example of that. A confluence of events recently got me thinking of another word currently verboten due to its baggage. A recent article in “The Guardian” by the Indonesian writer Laksmi Pamuntjak reported a return of censorship and the heavy shadow of bloody dictatorship. As reported, Janet DeNeefe, director of the Indonesian Ubud Writers and Readers Festival stated, “I just wanted to let you know that the festival is being censored this year, and we have been told to remove all programs to do with ‘1965’,” she wrote. “Or else next year they will not give us a permit to hold the festival.” Ms. Pamuntjak writes, “I felt a chill when I read these lines, and a faint sense of absurdity that accompanied the sting. I was on my European book tour, having done almost nothing else in the past one and a half months but speak to German and Dutch audiences about my novel, an epic love story set against the backdrop of the Indonesian anti-communist purges of 1965.”

This, not coincidentally follows upon a film “The Look of Silence” in which a young Indonesian man begins to explore the history of the brutal slaughter of around a million people following the CIA orchestrated coup that brought Sukarno to power in 1965. The film is banned in Indonesia but making the rounds clandestinely. Even a decade after the removal of Sukarno the authorities, many of who were involved directly in the bloodletting, don't want it talked about. In an echo of that era, those who dare mention the terror of 1965 are being labeled “communists,” which was used as a justification for murder in the past.

Recent elections in Guatemala, a country with a very similar story, where most parties are hard-right and intimately connected with a recent dictatorship committing genocide, resulted in the victory of Jimmy Morales, an evangelical right-wing nationalist backed by the military. Guatemala is still living in the shadow of the genocide of Mayans by a the brutal dictator Rios Montt, installed in a coup orchestrated by the CIA and the Reagan administration in 1982. As in Indonesia, many government positions remain filled by the perpetrators of that genocide. And the violence continues.

This is a story that is repeated in many places around the world including Iran, Chile, El Salvador, Congo and many other countries in the CIA's bloody wake. The system they installed in those places is, to use the “F” word, fascism, or more precisely in those places, imposed fascism or fascism by proxy. What strikes me is how stubborn the grip of fascism is in many of those places even after the fall of those regimes.

As with all such heavy terms, a clear definition is needed. Fascism, as defined by its founder Benito Mussolini is The marriage of corporation and state. He clarified his vision saying “Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.” Georgi Dimitrov witnessed German fascism up close. He defended himself successfully in a Nazi court against charges of burning down the German capital or “Reichstag,” proving that it was done by the Nazis themselves. He described that system as “the dictatorship of the most reactionary elements of financial capitalism.” There are many kinds of authoritarian tyranny but in spite of efforts by our right-wing media to confuse the public, brutal corporate dictatorship what fascism actually is.

In poor countries, fascism can be imposed via military coups and puppet dictatorships by other more powerful countries in support of their corporate interests. This has been the pattern of US policy led by the CIA since the 1950's. In Guatemala, the coup was for the benefit of United Fruit, in Indonesia it was for the rubber industry, in Iran it was for the oil industry. There are many more examples but fascism and weapons have been our primary export for at least 70 years. We continue to arm dictatorships like Saudi Arabia, to train foreign armies and goon squads in brutality and at last count, have our special forces in over 130 countries. We are now escalating our presence in Syria in what looks like a proxy war with Russia echoing the insanity of the cold war.

Being the rule of corporations, fascist ideology always lurks at the heart of the market system. In our own country it has ebbed and come to the fore at different times. Right-wing nationalism, colonial aggression and racist reaction were strong from the 1890s through the 1920's and again in period following WWII, reaching a peak with the McCarthy red-scare of the 1950's. It raised its ugly head again in reaction to the civil rights reforms, social progress and anti-militarism of the 1960's and 70's with the ascension of Ronald Reagan.

Growing up Jewish with an awareness of recent history, I am particularly watchful for the symptoms of fascism. Beyond economics, fascism is a societal disease marked by undue corporate influence on government, militarism and a cultural military mindset defined by hyper-nationalism, suspicion of foreigners, fear of enemies, scapegoating of minorities, crushing of labor unions, anti-rationalism and rejection of science, intrusive government, a militarized police state and the prosecution of dissidents.

Over the last few decades we have seen the growth of corporate influence and power globally. Multinational corporations and global finance have become supranational powers, like countries of their own with loyalty only to their investors. Corporations rule small developing countries with private armies of their own to extract raw materials. Philosopher Jürgen Habermas, who grew up in fascist Germany observing the reality today states, “in our increasingly interdependent but still nationally fragmented world society, global financial capitalism, which has taken on a life of its own, still largely escapes the grip of politics. Behind democratic façades the political elites technocratically implement the imperatives of the markets almost without resistance. Trapped in their national perspectives, they have no other choice. Thus, they prefer to uncouple the political decision-making processes from the political public arenas, which are in any case dried out and whose infrastructure is crumbling. This colonialization of societies, which disintegrate from within and take up right-wing populist positions against each other, will not change as long as no political power can be found with the courage to take up the cause of achieving the political aim of universalizing interests beyond national frontiers.”

There is a quote (often misattributed to Sinclair Lewis) that, When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross. In 1938 professor Halford E. Luccock of the Divinity School of Yale stated that when fascism arrived here it would be called “Americanism” or “The American Way” and be use by those intent on profit to cover a multitude of sins such as lawless violence the denial of civil liberties. It seems that he had good foresight.

Corporate influence builds on itself. Thanks to corrupted justices on the Supreme Court, corporations are now “people” and their money “speech.” The Chamber of Commerce, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Koch Enterprises, major industries and their lobbying fronts like the Heritage Foundation, Freedomworks and many others fund candidates loyal to them and write legislation that affects us all. The political leaders they back push trade pacts that undermine our food, environmental and job safety as well as our economic security to benefit their benefactors. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is the latest example.

Since the attacks of September 2011, we have seen the rise of an increasingly intrusive and militarized police state and the growth of paranoid xenophobia. Racism and hate-groups have increased as well. The recent campaigns in the lead-up to Presidential elections are especially telling in this regard. The GOP, always glad to exploit the ignorance, anger and prejudice of its base has become entrapped in fascist ideology as candidates compete to be more right-wing than each other – and it's more than just campaign jargon. Donald Trump demonizes Mexicans and Hispanic refugee immigrants as well as those fleeing Syria. He runs on the idea of massive roundups and deportations, war mongering and privatization. Ben Carson isn't much better pushing guns, anti-Muslim bigotry, and a toxic mixture of fundamentalist religion and militarist nationalism. Candidates Fiorina, Pataki, and Graham fall back on the fascist tradition of accusing those who disagree with them of being communists.

The entire Republican agenda has devolved to fascism though not all Republicans are on the same page. In fact, it is a party rife with major differences. The "Christian" Right and Libertarians have diametrically opposite views of the role of government in regulating morality and the business wing is averse to destroying the credit of the country over things like funding Planned Parenthood or to pushing draconian austerity that will crash the economy. Still, they all agree on the dominance of corporate welfare over citizen well-being and they all push hyper-nationalist xenophobia and a militarized police state. Paul Ryan, now House Speaker, is a prototypical fascist in his agenda and his connection to reactionary corporate interests.

To be fair, the GOP has no monopoly on American fascism. Some Democrats like Clinton are corporatist hawks even if they are better on domestic social issues. President Obama has pushed military aggression globally. He is the first President to have an international assassination program. He has overseen the record expansion of the National Security State, persecuted journalists and truth tellers as well as pushing the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal in subservience to corporate interests. As I've written before, the CIA and National Security State are now the most powerful and unaccountable wing of our government. In serving corporate interests, it foments strife, spreading and creating proxy fascist governments from Ukraine to the Middle East and it dictates foreign policy across administrations no matter the party.

I have given much thought to why people not served by this kind of ideology, people that actually bear the brunt of the corporate agendas that harm us and treat us as disposable commodities buy into it at all. I think for many it is just plain easier. The manipulation of culture, religion and hot-button issues are certainly part of it. It requires no thought, research or knowledge of history, science or of the world to simply accept this stuff and, unlike digging for uncomfortable truths, it's safe. Most of us struggle just to get by day to day fearing for our economic and real security. Fascist ideology stokes fear of change and of enemies, real or imagined. It also speaks to our frustration, to the lack of control we have over our lives and gives voice to our anger and resentments. Misplaced blame and the catharsis of judgment and hate, act as a pressure valve while protecting those actually responsible for our troubles. It must be the fault of Mexicans, Muslims, Gays, or Blacks and if you object than you must hate America. If you express any sense of economic and social justice or mention human rights or heaven forbid, the common good, then you're a godless commie! Just like in Guatemala or Indonesia.

Since the attacks on Paris, the fascist language, fear-driven bigotry, xenophobia, and calls for vengeance and an increased National Security State are at a fever pitch. The embedded media pumps up fear and the Presidential contenders dance to the tune in a chorus of bellicosity which ignores the terror of our drown wars and own complicity in training and arming fanatics and that or our "allies" in Saudi Arabia and Israel.

With fascist ideology all around us, what do we do? I've been distressed by the corrupt and crippled state of our political system but I see many encouraging signs as well. If you're still reading this and not foaming at the mouth and cursing my existence, that too is a sign of hope. If anything can derail the juggernaut of global corporatism, of fascism, it is awareness of the symptoms and a willingness to name the disease. We should call out candidates that run on anti-immigrant, racist, religious, science denial or hyper-nationalist platforms. Be aware of corporate agendas. Don't afraid to say the “F” word and to demand instead, real citizen representation that puts our common interests first – to insist on government of, by, and for the People.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Cuba & Detroit Show the Way Forward

It seems that both Fidel Castro and Grace Lee-Boggs have worked out the only chance for human survival in the ruinous wake of industrial capitalism. This article is taken from Counterpunch

Hope in Abandonment: Cuba, Detroit, and Earth-Scientific Socialism

by Paul Street

In their historic 1848 Communist Manifesto, the great radical thinkers Karl Marx and Frederick Engels offered a curious dialectical celebration of rapacious industrial capitalism. To be sure, Marx and Engels had no illusions about the evil of that system. They observed that “the bourgeoisie” (the capitalist investors and manufacturers of the mid-19th century) undertook “the subjection of Nature’s forces to man” not to benefit humanity but to selfishly accumulate profits in accord with their soulless reduction of “personal worth” to “exchange value.” The venal capitalists “left remaining no other nexus between man and man than callous ‘cash payment,’…drown[ing society and culture] …in the icy water of egotistical calculation.” For economic exploitation “veiled” under feudalism “by religious and political illusions,” the founders of modern communism wrote, the bourgeois system “substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation…In place of the numerous indefeasible chartered freedoms,” the profits system “set up that single unconscionable freedom – Free Trade.”

There was no freedom for working people behind and beyond factory walls, Marx and Engels knew. “As privates of the industrial army,” they wrote, wage-earners were “placed under the command of a perfect hierarchy of officers and sergeants. Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois class, and of the bourgeois State; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the overlooker, and, above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself. The more openly this despotism proclaims gain to be its end and aim, the more petty, the more hateful and the more embittering it is.”

Still, the originators of “scientific socialism” were cheered by the emergence of a vast industrial laboring class toiling in the factories, shipyards, mines and mills that capitalism created. Competitively compelled to “constantly revolutioniz[e] the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production,” the Manifesto argued, capitalists generated their own gravediggers – the “embitter[ed]’” proletariat, the natural agent of socialist and communist revolution. “Not only has the bourgeoisie forged the weapons that bring death to itself [ultimately liberating forces of production too great to be channeled into bourgeois confines in Marx’s analysis]; it has also called into existence the men who are to wield those weapons — the modern working class – the proletarians.”

The Midwife of Socialism as Angle of Death

While Engels’ and above all Marx’s radical critique and analysis of capitalism remains remarkably relevant in the current era, subsequent history has not been terribly kind to their dialectical romance with industrial capitalism or to their faith in the eventual emancipating power of modern industry. Socialism on Marx’s radical-democratic model – or on any other kind – has not emerged out of working class movements in any of the most “advanced” industrial-capitalist nations of the world – in England, on the European continent, Japan, China, or in the United States. The industrial working class has joined and formed recurrent remarkable social and political movements in different times and places but it has not proved revolutionary in the sense anticipated with “scientific” certainty by the young Marx and Engels. The classic zones of bourgeois and industrial revolution have remained captive to capital and bourgeois rule, thanks in no small part to their privileged position atop the world capitalist and imperial state system.

Socialism of a kind very different from the radical and democratic sort embraced by Marx emerged during the last century not in the heartlands of capitalism, industrialism, and bourgeois revolution but in the mostly pre-industrialized, pre-capitalist, peasant-based, and autocratic nations of Russia and China. In the Soviet Union and empire, an authoritarian form of state socialism undertook the work of industrialization, reproducing Western capitalism’s class-based corporate and top-down division and command of labor though (no small differences) without capitalists and private corporate for-profit ownership of leading economic institutions and with the state in charge of the economy and the provision of basic social goods.

At the same time, modern mass-production/mass-consumer industrialism has proven itself less the midwife of socialism (democratic or otherwise) than a cancerous threat to life on Earth. The two great industrial and superpower rivals of the second half of the 20th century – the state-capitalist United States and the bureaucratic-collectivist and state-socialist Soviet Union – both engaged in colossal assaults on livable ecology. The leading environment-and health-mauler has by far and away been the western, U.S.-led bourgeois system of mass consumption and built-in obsolescence, always far more technologically “productive” (and destructive) than the now defunct Soviet system. This planet-wrecking socioeconomic regime has expanded its reach like never before across the entire planet in the neoliberal and post-Cold War age. Still, the vanguard/command model of industrial state socialism that prevailed in Stalinist Russia and the Soviet empire for many decades also engaged in significant fossil-fueled ecological criminality to advance its own model of Nature-attacking hyper-accumulation. Mao’s “communist” revolution ended up as the state-command dispossessor, assembler, and discipliner of a giant industrial proletariat created for monumental world-capitalist exploitation and eco-cidal, fossil-fueled mass production directed largely by giant multinational US and other Western corporations in China’s vast industrial frontier (the world’s leading zone of capitalist surplus value creation and accumulation since the 1980s.)

Together, with Western and Japanese state capitalism far in the lead, the great industrial powers of the last century and the current have brought humanity to the precipice of true environmental catastrophe courtesy of the industrial Greenhouse Effect (discovered by French and British physicists during Marx’s lifetime). Earth scientists today warn with increasing urgency and an army of terrible data that the modern, carbon-burning industrial civilization that Marx and Engels embraced in their own dialectical way in the mid-19th century (albeit long before the full “Anthropocene”-defining environmental ravages of capital were remotely evident) now raises the very real specter of human extinction. It is a curious climatological version of what The Communist Manifesto said befell societies where necessary revolutions failed to occur: “the common ruin of the contending classes.” (One plausible thesis holds that the remarkable growth and productivity dividend that the heedless drilling and burning of oil, gas, and coal afforded the West in the last two centuries has been a critical factor permitting capital to avoid the working class revolution that the two young Communists prophesized.)

Teeming With Life

Hope for survival – for that is what is at stake – seems to reside in spaces abandoned by the great industrial capitalist and socialist powers of the last century. In a recent Counterpunch essay, journalist Gary Leech recounts how the island nation of Cuba has “redefined socialism” in the wake of the decline of its former protector the Soviet Union. Over the past two decades, Leech shows, Cuba has moved towards a more participatory system that also happens to be an outstanding model of environmentally sustainable and healthy, permaculturalist economics:

“In the 1980s, Cuba more closely reflected the state socialist model that ultimately failed in the Soviet Union….But with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disintegration of the socialist trading bloc, Cuba had to become more creative if it was to survive both literally and figuratively as an island of socialism in an ocean of capitalism. And it was the creative survival strategies that emerged during the 1990s that have helped to redefine socialism in Cuba today…. The collapse of the Soviet Union, in conjunction with a corresponding tightening of the five-decades-long US blockade, meant that Cuba could no longer import sufficient food or oil. The country responded to the shortage of petroleum-based pesticides and fertilizers by becoming the world’s leader in organic agriculture. It responded to the shortage of fuel by becoming a leader in urban agriculture to diminish the need to transport food great distances to markets. As a result, more than 80 percent of the country’s agricultural production is now organic… [and produced by] smaller worker-owned cooperatives. The new cooperatives not only increased production, they also constituted a shift away from state socialism by empowering workers who previously had little or no voice in the running of their workplaces…. This emerging worker democracy through cooperatives not only existed in agricultural production, it also occurred in the selling of products…”

“The shift to a more ecologically sustainable agricultural production has resulted in healthy organic food being the most convenient and inexpensive food available to Cubans. Because of the US blockade, processed foods are more expensive and not readily available. This reality stands in stark contrast to that in wealthy capitalist nations such as the United States and Canada where heavily-subsidized agri-businesses flood the market with cheap, unhealthy processed foods while organic alternatives are expensive and more difficult to obtain. The consequence in the United States is high levels of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.”

Thanks in no small part to these remarkable innovations on an island abandoned by 20th century Soviet industrial socialism and embargoed by US-led 20th and 21st century state capitalism, Cuba stands out among all nations (rich and poor) in a critical way. The makers of the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) have found that Cuba is the only country on the planet to combine a standard of living and quality of life consistent with “high human development” with a globally sustainable carbon footprint. A report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) includes a graph that shows two features for the nations of the world: the HDI (including measures of life expectancy, poverty, literacy, health care, and the like) and “ecological footprint” – the energy and resources consumed per person in each country. Only Cuba received a passing grade in both areas.

As the University of British Columbia notes, “In 2006, the WWF declared Cuba to be the only sustainable nation based on ecological footprint and human development index. The majority of food grown in Cuba is produced without chemicals. Good bugs fight bad bugs in the fields. Their soils – like their communities – are teeming with life….Today, Cuba’s agricultural cooperatives provide 80 percent of the food produced in Cuba and her system of urban agriculture is a model for the world. Building on the success of her agricultural cooperatives, Cuba is now taking bold new steps to build a more cooperative, just and people-centred economy.”

Call it Earth Science-friendly socialism – or maybe even earth-scientific socialism.

Seeds of the New in the Shell of the Old

Meanwhile, up in the former industrial heartland of the North American superpower, something significantly similar has happened in Detroit – a city viciously disowned and discarded by capital in the world’s leading capitalist state. Over 20 square miles (a space nearly as big as Manhattan) of this former capital city of capitalist mass production (and of mass production unionism) now lay vacant – deserted by capital. On a recent trip to the onetime headquarters of the once dominant American auto industry – now home to concentrated and hyper-segregated mass Black poverty and joblessness on an epic scale – teleSur English’s Maria Sitrin found that “people in Detroit have been taking back their city…creating the new in the shell of the old.” Ordinary working people on the inner-city ground of capitalist abandonment have developed a health-nurturing urban farming and cooperative system that is planting the at once literal and figurative seeds of an alternative economic structure within the rotting urban residue of a profits system that turned Detroit into the ultimate Rustbelt city:

“people have been growing food in abandoned buildings, vacant lots, torn down structures and other cracks in the system. I learned… that the shell of abandoned buildings is good for keeping raised plant beds warm [and]….of students – thousands of them – learning about community, health, care and cooperation in their schools through working in school gardens [and]…of weekly fresh produce recipe swaps amongst dozens of seniors and regular neighborhood community potlucks [and that]…one can buy carrots, tomatoes, and other fruits and vegetables outside gas station stores – organized by teens. Detroit is building the new in the cracks of the old…. Over the past ten years, as the economic crisis deepens and people’s abilities to survive are challenged even more, they are turning to one another and looking around at ways to survive. In this case, the around is on the thousands of vacant lots, often abandoned by business who have long taken the jobs elsewhere, or landowners no longer able to pay taxes or mortgages. Rather than leave the land abandoned and fallow, people have been coming together to make it productive. This is no small task, and with the cooperation of thousands of people the urban farms and gardens in Detroit produce 200 tons of produce each year. The number of urban gardens has gone from fewer than 100 before the year 2000 to over 2000 in 2015. What this means in human terms is that those people who work the gardens eat 2.5 more servings of fruits or vegetables than those who do not….These numbers are especially important considering Detroit is a ‘food desert’ meaning that there are no major food retail outlets selling fresh produce. Those smaller ones that do exist are few and far between, and the produce they have is often terrible… While there is an ever growing number of networks organized by urban farms and gardens with people teaching others strategies for urban gardening, at the same time there are and continue to be many people who just learn themselves and teach one another in their neighborhoods.”

Socialism as the Basis for Sustainability

The synergy between Leech’s Cuba and Sitrin’s Detroit is undeniable and powerful. Faced with material, social, and political desertion (and embargo in Cuba’s case) by top-down, industrialized, and eco-cidal elites, the people themselves stepped in to craft new and healthy, environmentally sustainable bottom up strategies for survival. They have generated their own healthy, life-sustaining means of production and distribution at the most basic level – food. They have done so through methods that stand in harmonious and regenerative – rather than conflictual and extractivist – relations to the Earth we all share. Imagine.

This is not the path laid out in The Communist Manifesto. It’s not really about building on, or mimicking capital’s purported grand industrial triumph, understood as an ultimately welcome dialectical bridge to a world beyond exploitation, private profit, and the necessity of toil. It’s also not about the naïve bourgeois “utopian socialism” that Marx and Engels mocked in their historic document. It’s about people stepping naturally and organically outside of cancerous capitalism, in places abandoned and embargoed by capital, to engage in the hard but useful and cooperative work of building new modes of nourishing, life-upholding production and distribution from the Earthly bottom up.

There is of course an important difference between Cuba and Detroit, one that Marxists will appreciate. The Cuban example has taken place with the participation and encouragement of the Cuban government, consistent with the independent and truly radical-socialist impulses of the 1959 Cuban Revolution [1]. The Cuban permaculturalist Roberto Pérez tells Leech that Cuba laid the basis for an environmentally sustainable society “when the revolution gained sovereignty over the resources of the country, especially the land and the minerals…You cannot think about sustainability,” Perez explains, “if your resources are in the hands of a foreign country or in private hands. Even without knowing, we were creating the basis for sustainability.” This is a critical point. As the New York City-based Marxist writer Louis Proyect noted last May, “capitalism and capitalist politics have to be superseded if humanity and nature are to survive. Once we can eliminate the profit motive, the door is open to rational use of natural resources for the first time in human history. How we make use of such resources will naturally be informed by our understanding that reason governs the outcome and not quarterly earnings. The alternative,” Proyect reminds us, “to this is a descent into savagery, if not extinction.” (The savagery, for what it’s worth, is well underway in the U.S., home to 290 mass shootings in the first 270 days of 2015 and to a global military Empire that regularly murders innocents – most recently 22 patients and doctors at a Doctors Without Borders facility in Afghanistan – abroad on a mass scale). Ecosocialists: do not throw out the anti-capitalist baby with the industrialist bathwater!

The cooperative urban farming movement described by Sitrin in Detroit and in other zones of bourgeois, exchange value-driven capitalist abandonment across the U.S. is occurring in the urban shadows of a nation that remains captive to the world’s most powerful capitalist class and its hidden, unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money, empire, race, patriarchy, and eco-cide. Its geographic positioning, however, makes it in one sense more significant than the wonderful Cuban developments captured by Leech. Detroit, after all, rests in the belly of the beast, the great capitalist and imperial state that continues to do the most by far to yoke the world to the deadly, exterminist, environmentally catastrophist “global treadmill” of mass production, mass consumption, and private, plutocratic accumulation. If we might turn the mass-production enthusiast Leon Trotsky on his eco-industrial head and then set him back on his feet in the United States, it is in this country above all where the duty of popular, permaculturalist and eco-socialist revolution is greatest and where the liberating potential of such revolution for humanity is most advanced.

Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014).


[1]. Leech notes that Cuba’s shift towards a less statist and more participatory model of socialism through the formation of cooperatives has been misunderstood by U.S. media as a shift to capitalism. “Unlike in capitalist nations,” Leech explains, “Cuba has not simply laid off thousands of public sector workers and left them to fend for themselves as unemployed desperately seeking private sector jobs. The layoffs are a multi-year process and, due to the 2011 economic reforms, many workers will continue to perform the same job. For instance, in many sectors, such as stores, bars, restaurants and transportation, workers have been offered the opportunity to establish cooperatives and to take over their existing places of business….In one such case, five workers in a state-owned restaurant formed a cooperative and now lease the property from the state and run the business as their own. So while they are part of the downsizing of the public sector because they no longer work for the state, they continue to do the same job as previously. In the eyes of many, such a transition actually constitutes a strengthening of socialism rather than a shift towards capitalism because it is empowering workers who now have a meaningful voice in their workplace—something they didn’t have under state socialism and would not have under corporate capitalism…The establishment of small private enterprises constitutes a redefining of Cuban socialism because it liberates workers from the hierarchical structures of state socialism by allowing them to become their own bosses. Further evidence that allowing small businesses and cooperatives to emerge does not necessarily represent a shift to capitalism is the fact that it remains illegal to establish a corporation. Because an individual is only permitted to own one place of business, corporate chains that monopolize production and markets cannot be established so the overwhelming majority of businesses remain locally-owned and rooted in the community…What Cuba is attempting to avoid are the gross inequalities that inevitably result from monopoly corporate capitalism where workers have no meaningful voice in their daily work lives. So while many mainstream analysts in the United States view the shift to small private businesses as a move towards capitalism, such a view ignores the reality that small privately-owned businesses are not unique to capitalism, they existed in societies long before capitalist model came into existence.”

Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Past the Tipping Point

Beyond understanding how small and fragile a world we live in and how tenuous and questionable our survival realizing the reality puts many things in context. Ask any survivor of cancer. As with the moon landing, this realization can serve as a paradigm shift in our consciousness: in how we see ourselves and each other. Let's face it, national loyalties, partisan conflicts, cultural differences, class struggles and military competitions all seem irrelevant in the face of extinction.

Rather than becoming depressed about the state of the planet and our odds, we can savor what we have while we have it. Maybe it will help us to realize that we are all more than family. We, and all the living creatures on earth, are cells in the larger organism of our small living planet's biosphere. Like the cells in our body, cooperation is vital to survival. We are truly one. All we have in the universe is each other. In realizing that oneness, we can live fuller lives with compassion and authenticity. We can honestly and openly be ourselves shedding those phoney pretenses donned for the sake of careers or social acceptance. In doing so, we can find personal peace and we may even reach some kind of enlightenment that vindicates our existence and makes the human experiment somehow worth the effort.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Of Budgets, Priorities Reclaiming the Basis of Civilization

In a time when stupidity is promoted to protect the venal dictatorship of the 1% I find myself having to explain the basics of civilization to many who missed or were sheltered from the basic lessons of history. Fortunately, aside from publishing the Blue Collar Review I have a regular monthly column or two locally.

My newest contribution in this ongoing effort is entitled

Of Budgets and Priorities --
Reclaiming the Republic and the Social Contract

Governments are an invention of humanity going back to the New Stone Age between 12,000 and maybe 15,000 years ago. When we moved from nomadic hunting and gathering to agriculture, we settled into villages and city states which needed order and mutual protection. The social contract that is the basis of government evolved from family and clan loyalty and from the need for mutual responsibility and cooperation that made life possible for us as a species. Dictatorships aside, the basic idea of government was, and has remained at its root, mutual security. This meant that the strong looked after the weak, that everyone had food and water and that everyone was responsible for contributing to the common good and for defending against threats of aggression. These values basic to the idea of government are enshrined in the Preamble of our own Constitution; “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity . . .” Though the interpretation of the social contract and the inclusiveness of all, especially women, African-Americans and the working poor, has been at issue throughout our national history, these are the values that brought many of our ancestors here – those who had a choice.

The primary powers of the nation state, beginning with the late 18th century break from Monarchy, were: the creation of roads and basic infrastructure, establishing and maintaining essential communication via the postal service, a common defense and the collecting of taxes to cover the cost of these government services. What to do with that public money has expanded as necessity dictated. Roads and modern infrastructure cost more, we have electronic communication, more advanced medicine and education requirements and ecological threats to public safety. As our society evolved from agrarian and craft-based to industrial and urban, dependence on wage work became the norm creating new problems. The mutual support of the extended family needed on the farm gave way to the smaller nuclear family because workers had to be more mobile. Issues including work place injuries, job shortages, growing personal debt and living beyond employability created strong popular movements demanding worker rights and basic social guarantees, resulting in worker's comp, unemployment insurance and Social Security.

The collection and use of public money continues to be a hot-button issue on state and national levels. The original idea of government would imply that public money be invested in that which benefits our common security and the public good. Yet, this has increasingly been affected by the power of corporate influence.

The influence of corporate power on public policy really took off after the Civil War with the ascendancy of the Robber Barons. President Lincoln once said he feared the rising rich more than he did the Confederacy, writing, “I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. ... corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.” The “Guilded Age” that followed his assassination brought home the truth of his words. It was rife with corruption and scandal from the rise of Tammany Hall's bribery cronyism and redistribution of public money to outright fraud and the diversion of funds allocated for Congress to Railroad companies.

In 1886 a ruling by the Supreme Court in the Santa Clara case was purposefully misreported to twist the meaning of Fourteenth Amendment, giving corporations the rights of “a natural person.” As Richard Robbins writes in his book, Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism, “Thus corporations were given the same 'rights' to influence the government in their own interests as were extended to individual citizens, paving the way for corporations to use their wealth to dominate public thought and discourse.” The reality is that the Supreme Court ruled no such thing in 1886. It was a fiction created by the court’s reporter in contradiction to what the court actually said. There is a note to this effect in US National Archives by the Supreme Court Chief Justice of the time explicitly informing the reporter that the court had not ruled on corporate personhood in that case.

The present is a continuation of the past. The fiction of corporate personhood was strengthened by the Supreme Court in the Citizen's United Case by justices, particularly Clarence Thomas, who had ties to the plaintiff in the case. The ruling affirmed not only that corporations are people but that money is speech. That money talks seems to be unfortunately true in a system corrupted by it, which brings us back to that old fight over the spending priorities of public money.

The ongoing Congressional Budget struggle is a case in point. The Congressional Progressive Caucus has put forth a budget plan called The People's Budget that would increase the minimum wage, strengthen the rights and safety of working people, eliminate corporate tax loopholes, repeal Reagan era tax breaks for the wealthiest, reduce bloated defense spending and allow refinancing of student loans at lower interest rates, among other things.

As the CPC states in this budget plan, “The People's Budget fixes an economy that, for too long, has failed to provide the opportunities American families need to get ahead. Despite their skills and work ethic, most American workers and families are so financially strapped from increasing income inequality that their paychecks barely cover basic necessities. They earn less and less as corporations and the wealthy continue amassing record profits. It has become clear to American workers that the system is rigged. The People’s Budget levels the playing field and creates economic opportunity by increasing the pay of middle and low-income Americans. More customers and higher consumer spending advance American businesses, not tax cuts and relaxed regulations. The People’s Budget drives a full economic recovery by creating high-quality jobs and reducing family expenses, restoring the buying power of working Americans.”

The Economic Policy Institute analysis of this budget model concludes that, “The People’s Budget would increase spending on job creation and public investment measures by $528 billion in calendar year 2015, $454 billion in 2016, and $354 billion in 2017, relative to CBO’s current law baseline. The associated boost to aggregate demand would be enough to substantially reduce labor market slack, taking into consideration lesser economic headwinds from raising additional revenue. The People’s Budget would increase revenue by roughly $61 billion in calendar year 2015, $419 billion in 2016, and $632 billion in 2017.” At present, over 50% of House Democrats support this progressive budget plan.

Then there is the Budget pushed and recently passed along party lines by Republicans. As expected, the GOP budget is based on a failed neo-liberal economic model guided more by ideology and short-sighted corporate interests than by citizen interests. It would result in a $4 trillion in revenue loss over a decade that would have to be offset by spending cuts. Social safety net programs like Medicaid and SNAP, (or food stamps) are targeted for cuts. Where the Progressive Caucus budget would eliminate the economically destructive sequester cap, the Republican budget maintains it. It pushes austerity for you and I while maintaining tax breaks and subsidies for the wealthiest.

As the populist Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont stated,“At a time of massive wealth and income inequality, the Republicans apparently believe that the richest people in America need to be made even richer. It is apparently not good enough that 99 percent of all new income today is going to the top 1 percent. It is not good enough that the top one-tenth of one percent today own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. Clearly, in Republican eyes, the wealthy and the powerful need more help. Not only should they not be asked to pay more in taxes, the Republicans believe that we should cut tax rates for millionaires and billionaires. At a time when almost 20 percent of our children live in poverty, by far the highest childhood poverty rate of any major country on earth, my Republican colleagues think that maybe we should raise the childhood poverty rate a bit higher by cutting childcare, Head Start, the Child Tax Credit and nutrition assistance for hungry kids. In other words, this budget is more than just a very long list of numbers. The federal budget is about our national priorities and our values. It is about who we are as a nation and what we stand for. It’s about how we assess the problems facing our country and how we resolve them.”

That last line gets to the nitty-gritty of the issue of priorities and the role of government. As I wrote before, the reason governments exist is to protect the common security of citizens. Money collected from citizens through taxes is, our should be, required to serve the common good. Europeans understand this, paying more than we do in taxes, but getting much more social and economic security for their investment.

The power of corporate influence is key here. From the Republican budget, written largely by ALEC, the Kochs, and the Fossil Fuel industry to the larger global influence of multinationals in trade agreements like NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, corporations are becoming unelected governments. As recently revealed by Wiki-Leaks from a leaked draft, the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, as written, will dramatically expand the power of corporations to use closed-door tribunals to challenge and even supersede domestic laws including environmental, labor, public health, and other protections. Global corporations are becoming supranational governments, buying politicians, writing laws and dictating domestic policy not just to countries like Greece but to the U.S. – if we allow it.

Corporate influence is increasingly undermining and replacing the original purpose of government based on the citizen security with a system of serfdom, enforced poverty and global destruction. I am reminded here of what was written in our own Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the People to alter or to abolish it.

At issue is, who is being represented, in short, whose government is this? We still have the power to take back a Representative Republic of, by, and for the People from those who would cede it to the self-serving tyranny of corporate dictatorship. Together, overcoming the false divisions of phoney partisan politics that we are cynically fed, we can insist that details of trade agreements like the TPP are made open to the public and that we have a say. We can unite demanding budget priorities that put People before Profits. Together we can target and defeat corrupt politicians who prioritize private interests and corporate agendas over the common good. We can support the Move to Amend effort demanding legislation that overturns corporate personhood, instituting electoral reform and anti-corruption laws that remove the money influence from politics. Our future, our real security and our freedom are ours to defend or to squander. The time to act is now or as Rep. Alan Grayson says, "Pucker up and kiss this country goodbye".

Monday, January 12, 2015

Are We Charlie Hebdo?

Though we stand in solidarity against violence and hate, it seems hypocritical for the US to be identifying with this radical press and calling for press freedom and more surveillance simultaneously. The hypocrisy also runs deep, given the repression and limitations of our mainstream media. For those of us cursed with the ability to think and an awareness of the world's realities, nothing is simple. This cartoon by Joe Sacco says it well:

Power comes with the need for responsibility. This is just as true in the case of the press as it is with police and political power. Abuses of the press have led the way to genocide and war. Manipulation of the news by government, whether by dictatorships or the CIA, is as bad as stifling censorship. Both are intolerable in a free society but the freedom of the press can also go too far if it publishes racism, libel, or unfounded calls to violence. I do not know that this was the case with Charlie Hebdo. I tend to think it was not. I do support limits of hate speech, but only enough to ensure responsibility and the freedom to speak the truth and to be legitimately critical of anything.

There can be no justification the murderous attack in Charlie Hebdo. Fundamentalism, dogmatism and fanaticism of any kind, political or religious, are a danger to civilization. In France and in Germany, massive rallies stand against hate racism and division. This stands in contrast to the US where the slightest provocation, real or twisted by our press, results in an outpouring of hatred and calls for violence.

A better response to radicalism might be to examine the cause, to wonder what radicalized them. In this case, as Ray McGovern points out it was the torture by the US in Iraq and elsewhere as well as our drone wars and blind support of Zionism. Though European leaders showed their hypocrisy at the Paris rally by linking arms with Benjamin Netanyahu, one of the greatest purveyors of hate and terror on the planet, the civilized response of people on the streets in rejecting fascism, religious fanaticism and division and the difference in our own country speaks to where we, as Americans find ourselves culturally, at the precipice of fascist barbarism. I have written in depth on this for a local cultural paper and feel it deserves a national conversation. It also demands that civilized people make ourselves heard, standing against the hatred and barbarism of right-wing fascism and religious intolerance.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

2015 Declared the Year of Soil

The UN has declared this the year of soil. This is a movement to fight back against the agro-business which is poisoning our food, monopolizing seeds and unwisely forcing genetically modified plants into the environment. It must end. We must end it.

I am admittedly a dirt worshiper so this particular movement resonates with me. I penned this poem years ago in response to comments by Pat Buchanan accusing schools celebrating Earth Day of teaching children to worship dirt and it seems fitting for the moment.


Let us worship
Let us revel
in the richness of soil.
Let us meditate
on our own composition,
from dirt we come,
to dirt we return.
Let us roll
in rich loam.
Let the compost heap
be our holy altar.
The world is a dirt ball
floating in cosmic dust.
The moon is dirt.
The universe is dirt
and all therein
the dance of dirt.
Dirt is life
and life dirt dependent.
Salt of the earth are we
and the mountains
our dirt cathedrals.
Dirt Dirt Dirt Dirt
Filth dung mud crud dust
Soil laden and excreting
with dirt under our nails
and feet of clay
we acknowledge our oneness
with Dirt.
Holy Holy Holy Humus
Basic art thou
to all that is
and in your embrace
is final peace found.
Who is like unto thee, Dirt
among the mighty
providing sustenance and life?

Blessed be
the Dirt under our feet!
Blessed be
the Dirt under our nails!
Blessed be
the Dirt that moves
in intimate complexity!
Blessed be
the components of Dirt!
We of the Dirt extol thee.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Cornell West on Black Prophetic Fire

One of Americans most principled, brilliant and revolutionary thinkers.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Climate Reaching Critical Mass

I hate summer. The torpid heat we usually suffer through for months in Norfolk takes a heavy toll on me. This has been a much cooler summer for us than usual, even a little chilly at times. I'm not complaining. Unfortunately, while we got a break this year the unusual weather is symptomatic of changes to the environment that bode ill. Places that normally have mild and even cool summers, like the Pacific Northwest, western Canada, northern Europe and parts of Siberia had much hotter summers than usual. A report from NASA's Earth Observatory stated, “Records for high temperatures (mid-30s°C, mid-90s°F) were approached or broken in Latvia, Poland, Belarus, Estonia, Lithuania, and Sweden in late July and early August. Searing temperatures also dried out forests and fueled wildfires in Siberia; in the U.S. states of Oregon, Washington, and California; in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, and Northwest Territories; and even in Sweden. At the same time, cool air moved from high northern latitudes into much of the U.S., setting record-low daytime and nighttime temperatures as far south as Florida and Georgia. Temperatures dropped to the winter-like levels in the mountains of Tennessee.”

The warming of the seas and of arctic tundra exacerbates the pattern by triggering methane release. Methane is about 30 times more potent a heat trapping greenhouse gas than CO2. NASA has reported the release of massive amount of methane from Arctic tundra which holds five to six times the carbon equivalent of what humans have burned in our entire existence. Deep beneath the Arctic Ocean and in other deep sea areas are methane hydrates, a mixture of frozen methane and ice. A March 2010 report in Science magazine indicated that these cumulatively contain the equivalent of 1,000 to 10,000 gigatons of carbon. Compare this total to the 240 gigatons of carbon humanity has emitted into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution began. Researchers surveying the Arctic Ocean this year report plumes of methane rising in bubbles from the sea floor. Climatologist Jason Box, who closely followed the research expedition, responded to what he saw tweeting, "If even a small fraction of Arctic sea floor carbon is released to the atmosphere, we're fucked." He's right. The last major release of oceanic methane was during the Permian Extinction which killed 99% of all life on the planet.

Recently formed, massive sinkhole-like methane blowholes in Siberia were discovered and reported this summer. This year we have has also seen a significant increase in the rate at which the Greenland ice sheet is melting. The Jakobshavn Glacier is descending into the ocean at a rate of 46 meters -- or half a football field -- each day. This adds to our problem of rising seas as does the melting of the Antarctic ice sheets which, according to Robert Bindschadler of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, alone could raise global sea levels 14 inches by the year 2100.

A new assessment by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) called, The Synthesis Report, being a summation of previous reports over the last year, offers a stark assessment of the perilous future we face due to climate change unless serious steps to reduce our carbon footprint are implemented soon. The draft states that “Global warming is already cutting grain production by several percentage points and that could grow much worse if emissions continue unchecked. Higher seas, devastating heat waves, torrential rain and other climate extremes are also being felt around the world as a result of human emissions. Those problems are likely to intensify unless the gases are brought under control.”

The report goes on to warn that “Failure to adequately acknowledge and act on previous warnings has put the planet on a path where severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts of human-caused climate change will surely be felt in the decades to come.” and that “The risk of abrupt and irreversible change increases as the magnitude of the warming increases.”,

The good news here is that, while billions are still being spent by the oil industry and ALEC to promote skepticism and denial, public opinion is changing as people awaken and come to terms with the reality.

In a New York Times report entitled The Climate Swerve, Robert Jay Lifton writes, “Americans appear to be undergoing a significant psychological shift in our relation to global warming. I call this shift a climate “swerve,” borrowing the term used recently by the Harvard humanities professor Stephen Greenblatt to describe a major historical change in consciousness that is neither predictable nor orderly. Experience, economics and ethics are coalescing in new and important ways. The experiential part has to do with a drumbeat of climate-related disasters around the world, all actively reported by the news media: hurricanes and tornadoes, droughts and wildfires, extreme heat waves and equally extreme cold, rising sea levels and floods. Even when people have doubts about the causal relationship of global warming to these episodes, they cannot help being psychologically affected. Of great importance is the growing recognition that the danger encompasses the entire earth and its inhabitants. We are all vulnerable. This sense of the climate threat is represented in public opinion polls and attitude studies. A recent Yale survey, for instance, concluded that American's certainty that the earth is warming has increased over the past three years,and those who think global warming is not happening have become substantially less sure of their position.”

A recent article in the Virginian Pilot reports this new consciousness making itself evident in North Carolina due, in large part, the spill of coal ash into the Dan River and the knowledge that Duke Energy has similar potentially leaky coal ash ponds at 13 other sites across North Carolina. As the Pilot article makes clear, the rising public concern doesn't end with coal ash. The article reports 100 people showing up at a county commissioners meeting to protest a planned chicken slaughterhouse proposed for Cedar Creek. The article goes on to state, “This mess is resonating with people — including many who in the past have shrugged away environmental issues. Coal ash has brought home the link between clean rivers and what comes out of our taps — and what it can cost to make it clean again after it’s been fouled. State government has spent years asking big businesses like Duke how they want to be regulated, but culture change is coming fast. The House and Senate almost went home without agreeing on a law to regulate coal ash dumps, until it dawned on lawmakers that they were really, really ticking off a lot of their constituents — people who may or may not vote for them in November. And so, they did an about-face and passed cleanup legislation. First state in the nation to do it, they said. And some legislative leaders are already acknowledging that they may need to come back and toughen it up. That sure wasn’t your daddy’s North Carolina at work.

There’s a lesson there for public officials: The sleeping giant is awake and won’t be dozing off anytime soon. Not, for sure, until regulators get tougher and state and local governments show a sense of stewardship over the land and water.”

We are seeing this here in Tidewater as well. People are coming together to support efforts to clean up and protect the Chesapeake bay. In Norfolk, residents are demanding that city leaders address the 90,000 pounds of toxic fugitive coal dust that are dumped on our city yearly and question our sinking city's contribution to rising seas and climate change in hosting the largest coal export terminal in the country. As in North Carolina, and around the country and world, people are coming together in growing numbers to demand that public safety and environmental sanity take priority over corporate profits.

We, as a species, are at a juncture in history that will likely decide our fate. As we approach what scientist warn is the point of no return, there is literally no time like the present to act if we are to have any future at all. On September 21st, the largest climate rally in history will take place in New York City. It will begin in Columbus Circle with a march to 11th Ave. World leaders are scheduled to be in New York for a U.N. Climate meeting at this time. People from the most diverse climate coalition ever will be there to send an overwhelming message to leaders across the planet that we need global climate action now. The larger the turnout, the more effective that voice will be. There will be other large demonstrations around the world as well. All this said, Chris Hedges is right when he points out the weakness of this event and states that we need to do much more. It will take real rebellion and direct action as well as massive lobbying and public awareness raising efforts.

Past generations of Americans have pulled together to face lesser challenges. In WWII, people grew “victory gardens,” made personal sacrifices and supported the war effort with volunteer labor. No other issue has been as important as the growing climate catastrophe. We have the ability to minimize the extent of climate change and to adapt to what we cannot change. The only thing stopping us is will power. The primary obstacle remains the myopic, greed-driven power of corporate influence over government but the united critical mass of active public influence is even greater. It will take more than a march, even a massive one, to overcome the power of corporate influence that is destroying our world. It will take the critical mass of our active resistance to capitalist globacide and the hold wealth has on our governments. Together, we will either make history or be lost to it.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Confronting the Zionist Monstrosity

The brutal genocidal slaughter of Palestinians, paid for by the United States, must be condemned. The support for a fascist racist country based on ethnic purity must end. American Jews need to wake the hell up and realize that the Zionist state runs counter to everything our culture believes in. It as become the fascism that almost wiped us out. We, who have been on the front lines of the fight for Civil Rights cannot justify or support or see our country support such brutal racism and apartheid. Our country gets the blow-back and Jews get the blame. Israel is brutally racist, are you? I and many others say hell no. Israel is a CIA puppet state which would shortly cease to exist without our support. That gives us great influence if not ultimate control. Write your Congressional Rep and demand an end to funding for such an insulting, deadly monstrous nightmare unless they end the occupation of Palestine. A just peace can only come from a just equality, ending apartheid and making all equal citizens. Write the President and demand he take action. Organize a protests so others know we are NOT blindly loyal to Zionist Fascism. Stand up and be counted as objecting to such gross injustice.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Chris Hedges Interviews Noam Chomsky

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Net Neutrality and the Fight for the Free Flow of Information

I don't text. I don't tweet, and I don't use Facebook or other social media. That may make me seem like a dinosaur to some but I do use the internet a lot. I rely on it as a source of information. I read all kinds of views, many from the international press, and I do a lot of research. I also comment on issues on various sites including Pilotonline. The internet is not only a vital source of information but also a virtual town square where ideas can be examined and shared. As the philosopher Hannah Arendt noted, our ability to think is dependent on access to factual truth and on our ability to communicate, to discuss and to learn from others. In our increasingly distant and alienated social reality, the open internet, free from government interference or corporate imposed limits plays a vital role.

The internet, and the access to it we have come to take for granted, is threatened at this moment by efforts to further privatize access, creating a tiered system, much like cable. Giant corporations like Comcast and Verizon have much to gain by an arrangement where they can decide what you can access on line based on how much you pay them. This undermines Net Neutrality, or the open internet we have had up to now and which many are struggling to maintain. The decider in this struggle is ultimately the Federal Communications Commission and its Chair Tom Wheeler, appointed by President Obama last may and formerly the top lobbyist for the cable and wireless industry. The FCC defines the legal rules under which communication systems, or “common carriers” operate, whether radio, telephone, TV, or the internet. Guarantees of fair access exist for most of these but new rules, pushed by corporate giants and so far supported by Wheeler, aim to exclude internet access by reclassifying it.

Robert McChesney, a media-reform advocate explains, “There’s tremendous incentive for Comcast or AT&T and Verizon to want to basically privatize the internet, to say 'We control what can get on the internet and what doesn’t, if you want to be on our network.' And then they can shake people down for money. It also has immense, unimaginable political power. The media reform movement, Free Press and others, have all organized on this for the last decade to prevent companies from using their monopoly power to be able to censor what gets through on the internet, so we have an open network. Now, if we actually had a public service like a post office system, it wouldn’t be a debate because there would be no incentive to censor dissident voices. Everyone would have access, no questions asked. It’s a huge fight, and it’s a difficult fight, because there’s so much money on the other side.”

As McChesney points out, Free Press is a group advocating for open communication and against censorship. Their website, explains this complicated issue in straightforward terms: “The open Internet is central to people’s freedom to communicate, share, advocate and innovate in the 21st century. But powerful interests want to censor free speech, block the sharing of information, hinder innovation and control how internet users get online.”

Should the FCC give in to pressure from Comcast and Verizon, many websites will all but disappear or be so hard to access and so slow to load that many won't bother. It also means that new internet businesses won't have a chance. This is a blatant attempt to monopolize and control the internet that affects every one of us. Congress and those in the FCC know this but policymakers continue as usual to tie themselves in knots to please their corporate backers. They need to hear from you.

Only a massive public outcry can change this. It is happening, but it requires as many of us as possible. What can you do to protect your freedom of access online? The Free Press site has a Petition to the head of the FCC urging him to scrap the proposed rules and restore the principle of online nondiscrimination by reclassifying broadband as a telecommunications service.

You can call or FCC chair Tom Wheeler at 1-202-418-1000. You can send an e-mail to make your opinion known at or direct a tweet to Wheeler @TomWheelerFCC urging him to protect Net Neutrality. The more who call, the better. For the activists reading this twho like big protests, Free Press is planing a major Day of Action in Washington D.C. on April 15, the day the FCC next meets. Besides Free Press, other groups including Demand Progress, Common Cause, RootsAction, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the ACLU, and Public Knowledge have joined in the effort to stop what they fear will be the death of Net Neutrality. They want to insure that all online content continue to receive equal treatment free of corporate or government interference.

The free flow of information and the freedom of communication are vital requirements of an open society and of any semblance of democracy. The imminent fight to defend Net Neutrality is but one aspect. Newspapers, feeling the pinch of print competition with the internet are, like the Pilot, curtailing access to their online commentary, reducing the public square to a paid subscriber's club.

Another related issue is the attempt by Google to monopolize and control all accumulated knowledge by creating a central database. They have competition in doing this from other internet giants. The idea of a central place for accumulated knowledge in the public interest is an ancient one with the most noted historical example being the Library of Alexandria which was burned down by Julius Cesar in 48 BC. Immense amounts of history were lost that day. Many civilizations have had similar institutions or central libraries. The idea of collecting and preserving knowledge and cultural history for public use is certainly a great one. It is why we have Libraries. It is something that computer programmer, writer, political organizer and media activist Aaron Swartz, died for.

Swartz had played an important role in defeating previous attempts to undermine the open internet. In 2010, he downloaded old academic articles at MIT provided by the nonprofit research service JSTOR in order to make them more publicly accessible. Even after the university agreed in principle, made the information public, and dropped charges against him, the federal government continued to charge him under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Swartz faced up to 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine if convicted. The legal fees required for his defense economically ruined himself his parents who even mortgaged their home to cover costs. The enormous stress drove him to suicide.

The problem with Google's efforts to digitize all the books on the planet ran into trouble because much of what they copied was copyrighted. Writers and publishers make their living selling books. That needs to be protected. Also, being a private corporation which profits from collecting and selling information about users of their services raised real concerns. Though the courts ruled against Google for copyright infringement, their efforts continue.

Admittedly, if you are like me, the issue of Net Neutrality seems complex, loaded with technical jargon and is hard to grasp, but ultimately it comes down to protecting our privacy and more importantly, our access to information. Broadband internet should be treated as other telecommunication services. In reality is has become a necessary utility. As a writer, researcher, and publisher I depend on access to a wide array of information, as do many others. All of us who value the free flow of information, global communication, and unlimited access to the web to need to get on board and take action. We may only have a few weeks before the FCC decides.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Earth Day Blues

The town I live in, Norfolk, VA, is not only the most vulnerable to the effects of rising seas due to climate change but is also home to the largest coal export facility in the country. An effort to address this contradiction was kicked off by an article I wrote, entitled the Coal Train Blues reprinted here. The effort is now on coal dust mitigation but ultimately, we need to shut it down. Coal is the most filthy and damaging of fossil fuels responsible for bringing us to the precipice of global extinction. I'd like to think it makes a difference. I'd like to think we have a chance in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary -- that maybe we clever monkeys still have a trick up our sleeves. If nothing else, it makes a difference to me but, as the article below by Guy McPherson posted on his blog makes clear, it is really too late. That said, given a terminal diagnosis, we must continue without illusion to make the best of the time we have while looking at ways to lessen the severity and longevity of the damage and to survive as best we can or at least make our transient existence count.

Climate-change summary and update

I’m often accused of cherry picking the information in this ever-growing essay. I plead guilty, and explain myself in this essay posted 30 January 2014.

American actress Lily Tomlin is credited with the expression, “No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.” With respect to climate science, my own efforts to stay abreast are blown away every week by new data, models, and assessments. It seems no matter how dire the situation becomes, it only gets worse when I check the latest reports.

The response of politicians, heads of non-governmental organizations, and corporate leaders remains the same. They’re mired in the dank Swamp of Nothingness. As Hallor Thorgeirsson, a senior director with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said on 17 September 2013: “We are failing as an international community. We are not on track.” These are the people who know about, and presumably could do something about, our ongoing race to disaster (if only to sound the alarm). Tomlin’s line is never more germane than when thinking about their pursuit of a buck at the expense of life on Earth.

Worse than the aforementioned trolls are the media. Fully captured by corporations and the corporate states, the media continue to dance around the issue of climate change. Occasionally a forthright piece is published, but it generally points in the wrong direction, such as suggesting climate scientists and activists be killed (e.g., James Delingpole’s 7 April 2013 hate-filled article in the Telegraph). Leading mainstream outlets routinely mislead the public.

Mainstream scientists minimize the message at every turn. As we’ve known for years, scientists almost invariably underplay climate impacts. And in some cases, scientists are aggressively muzzled by their governments. I’m not implying conspiracy among scientists. Science selects for conservatism. Academia selects for extreme conservatism. These folks are loathe to risk drawing undue attention to themselves by pointing out there might be a threat to civilization. Never mind the near-term threat to our entire species (they couldn’t care less about other species). If the truth is dire, they can find another, not-so-dire version. The concept is supported by an article in the February 2013 issue of Global Environmental Change pointing out that climate-change scientists routinely underestimate impacts “by erring on the side of least drama.” Almost everybody reading these words has a vested interest in not wanting to think about climate change, which helps explain why the climate-change deniers have won.

Ever late to the party, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) admits global warming is irreversible without geoengineering in a report released 27 September 2013. ** On 22 April 2014, Truth-out correctly headlines their assessment, “Intergovernmental Climate Report Leaves Hopes Hanging on Fantasy Technology.” ** As pointed out in the 5 December 2013 issue of Earth System Dynamics, known strategies for geoengineering are unlikely to succeed (“climate geo-engineering cannot simply be used to undo global warming“). “Attempts to reverse the impacts of global warming by injecting reflective particles into the stratosphere could make matters worse,” according to research published in the 8 January 2014 issue of Environmental Research Letters. In addition, as described in the December 2013 issue of Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, geoengineering may succeed in cooling the Earth, it would also disrupt precipitation patterns around the world. Furthermore, “risk of abrupt and dangerous warming is inherent to the large-scale implementation of SRM” (solar radiation management), as pointed out in the 17 February 2014 issue of Environmental Research Letters. Finally, “schemes to minimize the havoc caused by global warming by purposefully manipulating Earth’s climate are likely to either be relatively useless or actually make things worse,” judging from research published in the 25 February 2014 issue of Nature Communications. As it turns out, the public isn’t impressed, either: Research published in the 12 January 2014 issue of Nature Climate Change “reveals that the overall public evaluation of climate engineering is negative.” ** Despite pervasive American stupidity, the public correctly interprets geo-engineering in the same light as the scientists, and contrary to the techno-cornucopians. **

Gradual change is not guaranteed, as pointed out by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in December 2013: “The history of climate on the planet — as read in archives such as tree rings, ocean sediments, and ice cores — is punctuated with large changes that occurred rapidly, over the course of decades to as little as a few years.” The December 2013 report echoes one from Wood Hole Oceanographic Institution more than a decade earlier. Writing for the 3 September 2012 issue of Global Policy, Michael Jennings concludes that “a suite of amplifying feedback mechanisms, such as massive methane leaks from the sub-sea Arctic Ocean, have engaged and are probably unstoppable.” During a follow-up interview with Alex Smith on Radio Ecoshock, Jennings admits that “Earth’s climate is already beyond the worst scenarios.” Truthout piles on 18 March 2014: “‘climate change’” is not the most critical issue facing society today; abrupt climate change is.” Skeptical Science finally catches up to reality on 2 April 2014 with an essay titled, “Alarming new study makes today’s climate change more comparable to Earth’s worst mass extinction.” The conclusion from this conservative source: “Until recently the scale of the Permian Mass Extinction was seen as just too massive, its duration far too long, and dating too imprecise for a sensible comparison to be made with today’s climate change. No longer.”

If you’re too busy to read the evidence presented below, here’s the bottom line: On a planet 4 C hotter than baseline, all we can prepare for is human extinction (from Oliver Tickell’s 2008 synthesis in the Guardian). Tickell is taking a conservative approach, considering humans have not been present at 3.5 C above baseline (i.e., the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, commonly accepted as 1750). According to the World Bank’s 2012 report, “Turn down the heat: why a 4°C warmer world must be avoided” and an informed assessment of “BP Energy Outlook 2030” put together by Barry Saxifrage for the Vancouver Observer, our path leads directly to the 4 C mark. The 19th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 19), held in November 2013 in Warsaw, Poland, was warned by professor of climatology Mark Maslin: “We are already planning for a 4°C world because that is where we are heading. I do not know of any scientists who do not believe that.” Adding to planetary misery is a paper in the 16 December 2013 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluding that 4 C terminates the ability of Earth’s vegetation to sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide.

I’m not sure what it means to plan for 4 C (aka extinction). I’m not impressed that civilized scientists claim to be planning for it, either. But I know we’re human animals, and I know animals require habitat to survive. When there is no ability to grow food or secure water, humans will exit the planetary stage.

According to Colin Goldblatt, author of a paper published online in the 28 July 2013 issue of Nature Geoscience, “The runaway greenhouse may be much easier to initiate than previously thought.” Furthermore, as pointed out in the 1 August 2013 issue of Science, in the near term Earth’s climate will change orders of magnitude faster than at any time during the last 65 million years. Tack on, without the large and growing number of self-reinforcing feedback loops we’ve triggered recently, the 5 C rise in global-average temperature 55 million years ago during a span of 13 years, and it looks like trouble ahead for the wise ape. This conclusion ignores the long-lasting, incredibly powerful greenhouse gas discovered 9 December 2013 by University of Toronto researchers: Perfluorotributylamine (PFTBA) is 7,100 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, and it persists hundreds of years in the atmosphere. It also ignores the irreversible nature of climate change: Earth’s atmosphere will harbor, at minimum, the current level of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration for at least the next 1,000 years, as indicated in the 28 January 2009 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Finally, far too late, the New Yorker posits a relevant question on 5 November 2013: Is It Too Late to Prepare for Climate Change? Joining the too-little, too-late gang, the Geological Society of London points out on 10 December 2013 that Earth’s climate could be twice as sensitive to atmospheric carbon as previously believed. New Scientist piles on in March 2014, pointing out that planetary warming is far more sensitive to atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration than indicated by past reports. As usual and expected, carbon dioxide emissions set a record again in 2013, the fifth-warming year on record and the second-warmest year without an El Nino. Another El Niño is on the way, as pointed out by Robert Scribbler on 6 March 2014: “Should the predicted El Nino emerge and be as strong as average model values indicate, global surface temperatures could rise by between .05 and .15 degrees Celsius …. This would be a substantial jump for a single year, resulting in yet one more large shift toward an ever more extreme climate.” Indeed, he upper end of the projected range takes us to 1 C warmer than baseline.

All of the above information fails to include the excellent work by Tim Garrett, which points out that only complete collapse avoids runaway greenhouse. Garrett reached the conclusion in a paper submitted in 2007 (personal communication) and published online by Climatic Change in November 2009 (outcry from civilized scientists delayed formal publication until February 2011). The paper remains largely ignored by the scientific community, having been cited fewer than ten times since its publication.

According to Yvo de Boer, who was executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2009, when attempts to reach a deal at a summit in Copenhagen crumbled with a rift between industrialized and developing nations, “the only way that a 2015 agreement can achieve a 2-degree goal is to shut down the whole global economy.” Politicians finally have caught up with Tim Garrett’s excellent paper in Climatic Change.

Writing for the Arctic Methane Emergency Group, John Davies concludes: “The world is probably at the start of a runaway Greenhouse Event which will end most human life on Earth before 2040.” He considers only atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, not the many self-reinforcing feedback loops described below. Writing on 28 November 2013 and tacking on only one feedback loop — methane release from the Arctic Ocean — Sam Carana expects global temperature anomalies up to 20 C 2050 (an anomaly is an aberration, or deviation from long-term average). Small wonder atmospheric methane can cause such global catastrophe considering its dramatic rise during the last few years, as elucidated by Carana on 5 December 2013 in the figure below.

Atmospheric methane and other GHG through November 2013

On the topic of tipping points, we crossed the Rubicon in 2007 at about 0.76 C warming. At this point, according to David Spratt’s excellent September 2013 report, “Is Climate Already Dangerous?”, not only had Arctic sea-ice passed its tipping point, but the Greenland Ice Sheet was not far behind, as the Arctic moves to sea-ice-free conditions in summer (the U.S. Navy predicts an ice-free Arctic by summer 2016, a year later than expected by the United Kingdom Parliament, which points out that the six lowest September ice extents have occurred in the last six years). Glaciologist Jason Box, an expert on Greenland ice, agrees. Box was quoted in a 5 December 2012 article in the Guardian: “In 2012 Greenland crossed a threshold where for the first time we saw complete surface melting at the highest elevations in what we used to call the dry snow zone. … As Greenland crosses the threshold and starts really melting in the upper elevations it really won’t recover from that unless the climate cools significantly for an extended period of time which doesn’t seem very likely.” Indeed, as stated that same year in the September issue of Global Policy, “because of increasing temperatures due to GHG emissions a suite of amplifying feedback mechanisms, such as massive methane leaks from the sub-sea Arctic Ocean, have engaged and are probably unstoppable.” By December 2013, the disappearance of Greenland’s ice had accelerated to five times the pace of a few years previously, and IPCC was acknowledging they’d been far too conservative with past estimates. Continued conservatism is buttressed by research reported in the 16 March 2014 issue of Nature Climate Change indicating melting of Greenland ice accounts for about one-sixth of recent sea-level rise.

If you think we’ll adapt, think again. The rate of evolution trails the rate of climate change by a factor of 10,000, according to a paper in the August 2013 issue of Ecology Letters. And it’s not as if extinction events haven’t happened on this planet, as explained in the BBC program, The Day the Earth Nearly Died.

The rate of climate change clearly has gone beyond linear, as indicated by the presence of the myriad self-reinforcing feedback loops described below, and now threatens our species with extinction in the near term. As Australian biologist Frank Fenner said in June 2010: “We’re going to become extinct,” the eminent scientist says. “Whatever we do now is too late.” Anthropologist Louise Leakey ponders our near-term demise in her 5 July 2013 assessment at Huffington Post and her father Richard joins the fray in this video from December 2013 (see particularly 1:02:18 – 1:02:56). Canadian wildlife biologist Neil Dawe joins the party of near-term extinction in an interview 29 August 2013 and musician-turned-activist Sir Bob Geldof joins the club in a Daily Star article from 6 October 2013. Health officials add their voices to the discussion about extinction in late March 2014, although they view 4 C as a problem to be dealt with later. In the face of near-term human extinction, most Americans view the threat as distant and irrelevant, as illustrated by a 22 April 2013 article in the Washington Post based on poll results that echo the long-held sentiment that elected officials should be focused on the industrial economy, not far-away minor nuisances such as climate change.

Supporters of carbon farming — the nonsensical notion that industrial civilization can be used to overcome a predicament created by industrial civilization — claim all we need to do is fill the desert with nonnative plants to the tune of an area three-quarters the size of the United States. And, they say, we’ll be able to lower atmospheric carbon dioxide by a whopping 17.5 ppm in only two decades. Well, how exciting. At that blistering pace, atmospheric carbon dioxide will be all the way back down to the reasonably safe level of 280 ppm in only 140 years, more than a century after humans are likely to become extinct from climate change.

According to the plan presented in the 23 August 2013 issue of Scientific American, the nonnative plants, irrigated with increasingly rare fresh water pumped by increasingly rare fossil-fuel energy, will sequester carbon sufficient to overcome contemporary emissions. Never mind the emissions resulting from pumping the water, or the desirability of converting thriving deserts into monocultures, or the notion of maintaining industrial civilization at the expense of non-civilized humans and non-human species. Instead, ponder one simple thought: When the nonnative plants die, they will emit back into the atmosphere essentially all the carbon they sequestered. A tiny bit of the carbon will be stored in the soil. The rest goes into the atmosphere as a result of decomposition.

This essay brings attention to recent projections and positive feedbacks. I presented much of this information at the Bluegrass Bioneers conference (Alex Smith at Radio Ecoshock evaluates my presentation here). More recently, I presented an updated version in a studio in Bolingbrook, Illinois. All information and sources are readily confirmed with an online search, and links to information about feedbacks can be found here.

Large-scale assessments

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (late 2007): >1.8 C by 2100 (up to 4.5 C, depending upon emissions scenarios)

Hadley Centre for Meteorological Research (late 2008): ~2 C by 2100

Later in 2008, Hadley Center’s head of climate change predictions Dr. Vicky Pope calls for a worst-case outcome of more than 5 C by 2100. Joe Romm, writing for Grist, claims, “right now even Hadley [Centre] understands it [> 5 C] is better described as the ‘business-as-usual’ case.”

United Nations Environment Programme (mid 2009): 3.5 C by 2100

Hadley Centre for Meteorological Research (October 2009): 4 C by 2060

Global Carbon Project, Copenhagen Diagnosis (November 2009): 6 C, 7 C by 2100

United Nations Environment Programme (December 2010): up to 5 C by 2050

These assessments fail to account for significant self-reinforcing feedback loops (i.e., positive feedbacks, the term that implies the opposite of its meaning). The IPCC’s vaunted Fifth Assessment continues the trend as it, too, ignores important feedbacks (also listen here). As with prior reports, the Fifth Assessment “has been altered after the expert review stage, with changes added that downplay the economic impacts of a warming planet.” Consider, for example, the failure to mention Arctic ice in the Working Group Summary released 31 March 2014 (additional links here).

On a positive note, major assessments fail to account for economic collapse. However, due to the four-decade lag between emissions and temperature rise, the inconvenient fact that the world has emitted more than twice the industrial carbon dioxide emissions since 1970 as we did from the start of the Industrial Revolution through 1970, and also due to the feedback loops described below, I strongly suspect it’s too late for economic collapse to extend the run of our species. Indeed, as pointed out by Bruce Melton at Truthout in a 26 December 2013 piece featuring climate scientist Wallace Broeker: “today we are operating on atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases from the 1970s. In the last 29 years we have emitted as many greenhouse gases as we emitted in the previous 236 years. Because of the great cooling effect of the oceans, we have not yet begun to see the warming that this recent doubling of greenhouse gases will bring.” Greenhouse gas emissions continue to accelerate even as the world’s industrial economy slows to a halt: Emissions grew nearly twice as fast during the first decade of the new millennium as in the previous 30 years, as reported in the 11 April 2014 issue of The Guardian.

The 40-year has been evident since at least 1938, when Guy Callendar pointed out influence of rising carbon dioxide on temperature in a paper in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society. The hand-drawn figure from the paper shown below clearly illustrates a rise in global-average temperature beginning about 1915, roughly 40 years after the consumption of fossil fuels increased substantially. Callendar’s work was used by J.S. Sawyer in a 1972 paper published in Nature to predict an “increase of 25% CO2 expected by the end of the century … [and] … an increase of 0.6°C in the world temperature” with stunning accuracy.

Callendar 1938 figure

Taking a broad view

Astrophysicists have long believed Earth was near the center of the habitable zone for humans. Recent research published in the 10 March 2013 issue of Astrophysical Journal indicates Earth is on the inner edge of the habitable zone, and lies within 1% of inhabitability (1.5 million km, or 5 times the distance from Earth to Earth’s moon). A minor change in Earth’s atmosphere removes human habitat. Unfortunately, we’ve invoked major changes.

The northern hemisphere is particularly susceptible to accelerated warming, as explained in the 8 April 2013 issue of Journal of Climate. Two days later, a paper in Nature confirmed that summers in the northern hemisphere are hotter than they’ve been for 600 years. As pointed out by Sherwood and Huber in the 25 May 2012 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and then by James Hansen in his 15 April 2013 paper, humans cannot survive a wet-bulb temperature of 35 C (95 F).

As described by the United Nations Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases in 1990, “Beyond 1 degree C may elicit rapid, unpredictable and non-linear responses that could lead to extensive ecosystem damage” (link mirrored here). James Hansen and crew finally caught up to the dire nature of 1 C warming 23 years after the U.N. warning, 28 self-reinforcing feedback loops too late.

We’ve clearly triggered the types of positive feedbacks the United Nations warned about in 1990. Yet my colleagues and acquaintances think we can and will work our way out of this horrific mess with the tools of industrial civilization (which, got us into this mess, as pointed out by Tim Garrett) or permaculture (which is not to denigrate permaculture, the principles of which are implemented at the mud hut). Reforestation doesn’t come close to overcoming combustion of fossil fuels, as pointed out in the 30 May 2013 issue of Nature Climate Change. Furthermore, forested ecosystems do not sequester additional carbon dioxide as it increases in the atmosphere, as disappointingly explained in the 6 August 2013 issue of New Phytologist. Adding egregious insult to spurting wound, the latest public-education initiative in the United States — the Next Generation Science Standards — buries the relationship between combustion of fossil fuels and planetary warming. The misadventures of the corporate government continue, even as collapse of ecosystems is fully under way. As pointed out in the April 2013 issue of PLoS ONE — too little, too late for many ecosystems — “catastrophic collapses can occur without prior warning.”

Some green-washing solutionistas take refuge in the nuclear solution. It’s astonishing what one can conclude when grid-tied electricity is a viewed as a natural right. James Hansen’s endorsement notwithstanding, nuclear power plants cause, rather than prevent, additional warming of Earth.

Let’s ignore the models for a moment and consider only the results of a single briefing to the United Nations Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen (COP15). Regulars in this space will recall COP15 as the climate-change meetings thrown under the bus by the Obama administration. The summary for that long-forgotten briefing contains this statement: “THE LONG-TERM SEA LEVEL THAT CORRESPONDS TO CURRENT CO2 CONCENTRATION IS ABOUT 23 METERS ABOVE TODAY’S LEVELS, AND THE TEMPERATURES WILL BE 6 DEGREES C OR MORE HIGHER. THESE ESTIMATES ARE BASED ON REAL LONG TERM CLIMATE RECORDS, NOT ON MODELS.”

In other words, near-term extinction of humans was already guaranteed, to the knowledge of Obama and his administration (i.e., the Central Intelligence Agency, which runs the United States and controls presidential power). Even before the dire feedbacks were reported by the scientific community, the administration abandoned climate change as a significant issue because it knew we were done as early as 2009. Rather than shoulder the unenviable task of truth-teller, Obama did as his imperial higher-ups demanded: He lied about collapse, and he lied about climate change. And he still does.

Ah, those were the good ol’ days, back when atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations were well below 400 parts per million (ppm). We’ll blow through the 400 ppm mark soon, probably for the first time in 3.2 to 5 million years. And, as reported in the journal Global and Planetary Change in April 2013, every molecule of atmospheric carbon dioxide since 1980 comes from human emissions. Not to be outdone, methane levels reached an average mean of 1800 parts per billion (ppb) on the morning of 16 June 2013. Tacking on a few of the additional greenhouse gases contributing to climate change and taking a conservative approach jacks up the carbon dioxide equivalent to 480 ppm. Seeps are appearing in numerous locations off the eastern coast of the United States, leading to rapid destabilization of methane hydrates (according to the 25 October 2013 issue of Nature). On land, anthropogenic emissions of methane in the United States have been severely underestimated by the Environmental Protection (sic) Agency, according to a paper in the 25 November 2013 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This figure is 1100 ppb higher than pre-industrial peak levels. Methane release tracks closely with temperature rise throughout Earth history — specifically, Arctic methane release and rapid global temperature rise are interlinked — including a temperature rise up to about 1 C per year over a decade, according to data from ice cores. The tight linkage between Arctic warming and global warming was verified in an article in the 2 February 2014 issue Nature Geoscience, which found that the Arctic’s cap of cold, layered air plays a more important role in boosting polar warming than does its shrinking ice and snow cover. A layer of shallow, stagnant air acts like a lid, concentrating heat near the surface. Finally, adding fuel to the growing fire, a paper in the 27 March 2014 issue of Nature articulates the strong interconnection between methane release and temperature rise: “For each degree that Earth’s temperature rises, the amount of methane entering the atmosphere … will increase several times. As temperatures rise, the relative increase of methane emissions will outpace that of carbon dioxide.”

Positive feedbacks

1. Methane hydrates are bubbling out the Arctic Ocean (Science, March 2010). As described in a subsequent paper in the June 2010 issue of Geophysical Research Letters, a minor increase in temperature would cause the release of upwards of 16,000 metric tons of methane each year. Storms accelerate the release, according to research published in the 24 November 2013 issue of Nature Geoscience. According to NASA’s CARVE project, these plumes were up to 150 kilometers across as of mid-July 2013. Global-average temperature is expected to rise by more than 4 C by 2030 and 10 C by 2040 based solely on methane release from the Arctic Ocean, according to Sam Carana’s research (see especially Image 24). Whereas Malcolm Light’s 9 February 2012 forecast of extinction of all life on Earth by the middle of this century appears premature because his conclusion of exponential methane release during summer 2011 was based on data subsequently revised and smoothed by U.S. government agencies, subsequent information — most notably from NASA’s CARVE project — indicates the grave potential for catastrophic release of methane. (I doubt industrial civilization manages to kill all life on Earth, although that clearly is the goal.) Catastrophically rapid release of methane in the Arctic is further supported by Nafeez Ahmed’s thorough analysis in the 5 August 2013 issue of the Guardian as well as Natalia Shakhova’s 29 July 2013 interview with Nick Breeze (note the look of abject despair at the eight-minute mark). In early November 2013, methane levels well in excess of 2,600 ppb were recorded at multiple altitudes in the Arctic. Later that same month, Shakhova and colleagues published a paper in Nature Geoscience suggesting “significant quantities of methane are escaping the East Siberian Shelf” and indicating that a 50-billion-tonne “burst” of methane could warm Earth by 1.3 C. Such a burst of methane is “highly possible at any time.” By 15 December 2013, methane bubbling up from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean had sufficient force to prevent sea ice from forming in the area. Nearly two years after his initial, oft-disparaged analysis, Malcolm Light concluded on 22 December 2013, “we have passed the methane hydrate tipping point and are now accelerating into extinction as the methane hydrate ‘Clathrate Gun’ has begun firing volleys of methane into the Arctic atmosphere.” According to Light’s analysis in late 2013, the temperature of Earth’s atmosphere will resemble that of Venus before 2100. Two weeks later, in an essay stressing near-term human extinction, Light concluded: “The Gulf Stream transport rate started the methane hydrate (clathrate) gun firing in the Arctic in 2007 when its energy/year exceeded 10 million times the amount of energy/year necessary to dissociate subsea Arctic methane hydrates.”

The importance of methane cannot be overstated. Increasingly, evidence points to a methane burst underlying the Great Dying associated with the end-Permian extinction event, as pointed out in the 31 March 2014 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Discussion about methane release from the Arctic Ocean has been quite heated (pun intended). Paul Beckwith was criticized by the conservative website, Skeptical Science. His response from 9 August 2013 is here.

Robert Scribbler provides a terrifying summary 24 February 2014, and concludes, “two particularly large and troubling ocean to atmosphere methane outbursts were observed” in the Arctic Ocean. Such an event hasn’t occurred during the last 45 million years. Scribbler’s bottom line: “that time of dangerous and explosive reawakening, increasingly, seems to be now.”

Image source: NASA

Image source: NASA

2. Warm Atlantic water is defrosting the Arctic as it shoots through the Fram Strait (Science, January 2011). Subsequent melting of Arctic ice is reducing albedo, hence enhancing absorption of solar energy. “Averaged globally, this albedo change is equivalent to 25% of the direct forcing from CO2 during the past 30 years,” according to research published in the 17 February 2014 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Destabilization of the deep circulation in the Atlantic Ocean may be “spasmodic and abrupt rather than a more gradual increase” as earlier expected, according to a paper published in the 21 February 2014 issues of Science. Models continue to underestimate relative to observations, as reported in the 10 March 2014 issue of Geophysical Research Letters.

3. Siberian methane vents have increased in size from less than a meter across in the summer of 2010 to about a kilometer across in 2011 (Tellus, February 2011). According to a paper in the 12 April 2013 issue of Science, a major methane release is almost inevitable, which makes me wonder where the authors have been hiding. Almost inevitable, they report, regarding an ongoing event. Trees are tipping over and dying as permafrost thaws, thus illustrating how self-reinforcing feedback loops feed each other.

4. Peat in the world’s boreal forests is decomposing at an astonishing rate (Nature Communications, November 2011)

5. Invasion of tall shrubs warms the soil, hence destabilizes the permafrost (Environmental Research Letters, March 2012)

6. Greenland ice is darkening (The Cryosphere, June 2012)

7. Methane is being released from the Antarctic, too (Nature, August 2012). According to a paper in the 24 July 2013 issue of Scientific Reports, melt rate in the Antarctic has caught up to the Arctic and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is losing over 150 cubic kilometres of ice each year according to CryoSat observations published 11 December 2013, and Antarctica’s crumbling Larsen B Ice Shelf is poised to finish its collapse, according to Ted Scambos, a glaciologist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union. Further confirmation of large methane releases is revealed by noctilucent clouds over the southern hemisphere from 21 November 2013 to 6 December 2013.

8. Russian forest and bog fires are growing (NASA, August 2012), a phenomenon consequently apparent throughout the northern hemisphere (Nature Communications, July 2013). The New York Times reports hotter, drier conditions leading to huge fires in western North America as the “new normal” in their 1 July 2013 issue. A paper in the 22 July 2013 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates boreal forests are burning at a rate exceeding that of the last 10,000 years.

9. Cracking of glaciers accelerates in the presence of increased carbon dioxide (Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics, October 2012)

10. The Beaufort Gyre apparently has reversed course (U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center, October 2012)

11. Exposure to sunlight increases bacterial conversion of exposed soil carbon, thus accelerating thawing of the permafrost (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, February 2013). Subsequent carbon release “could be expected to more than double overall net C losses from tundra to the atmosphere,” as reported in the March 2014 issue of Ecology. Arctic permafrost houses about half the carbon stored in Earth’s soils, an estimated 1,400 to 1,850 petagrams of it, according to NASA. Peat chemistry changes as warming proceeds, which accelerates the process, as reported in the 7 April 2014 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

12. The microbes have joined the party, too, according to a paper in the 23 February 2013 issue of New Scientist

13. Summer ice melt in Antarctica is at its highest level in a thousand years: Summer ice in the Antarctic is melting 10 times quicker than it was 600 years ago, with the most rapid melt occurring in the last 50 years (Nature Geoscience, April 2013). According to a paper in the 4 March 2014 issue of Geophysical Research Letters — which assumes relatively little change in regional temperature during the coming decades — “modeled summer sea-ice concentrations decreased by 56% by 2050 and 78% by 2100″ (Robert Scribbler’s in-depth analysis is here). Although scientists have long expressed concern about the instability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS), a research paper published in the 28 August 2013 of Nature indicates the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS) has undergone rapid changes in the past five decades. The latter is the world’s largest ice sheet and was previously thought to be at little risk from climate change. But it has undergone rapid changes in the past five decades, signaling a potential threat to global sea levels. The EAIS holds enough water to raise sea levels more than 50 meters.

14. Increased temperature and aridity in the southwestern interior of North America facilitates movement of dust from low-elevation deserts to high-elevation snowpack, thus accelerating snowmelt, as reported in the 17 May 2013 issue of Hydrology and Earth System Sciences.

15. Floods in Canada are sending pulses of silty water out through the Mackenzie Delta and into the Beaufort Sea, thus painting brown a wide section of the Arctic Ocean near the Mackenzie Delta brown (NASA, June 2013). Pictures of this phenomenon are shown on this NASA website.

16. Surface meltwater draining through cracks in an ice sheet can warm the sheet from the inside, softening the ice and letting it flow faster, according to a study accepted for publication in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface (July 2013). It appears a Heinrich Event has been triggered in Greenland. Consider the description of such an event as provided by Robert Scribbler on 8 August 2013:

In a Heinrich Event, the melt forces eventually reach a tipping point. The warmer water has greatly softened the ice sheet. Floods of water flow out beneath the ice. Ice ponds grow into great lakes that may spill out both over top of the ice and underneath it. Large ice damns (sic) may or may not start to form. All through this time ice motion and melt is accelerating. Finally, a major tipping point is reached and in a single large event or ongoing series of such events, a massive surge of water and ice flush outward as the ice sheet enters an entirely chaotic state. Tsunamis of melt water rush out bearing their vast floatillas (sic) of ice burgs (sic), greatly contributing to sea level rise. And that’s when the weather really starts to get nasty. In the case of Greenland, the firing line for such events is the entire North Atlantic and, ultimately the Northern Hemisphere.

17. Breakdown of the thermohaline conveyor belt is happening in the Antarctic as well as the Arctic, thus leading to melting of Antarctic permafrost (Scientific Reports, July 2013). In the past 60 years, the ocean surface offshore Antarctica became less salty as a result of melting glaciers and more precipitation, as reported in the 2 March 2014 issue of Nature Climate Change.

18. Loss of Arctic sea ice is reducing the temperature gradient between the poles and the equator, thus causing the jet stream to slow and meander (see particularly the work of Jennifer Francis). One result is the creation of weather blocks such as the recent very high temperatures in Alaska. This so-called “polar vortex” became widely reported in the United States in 2013 and received the attention of the academic community when the 2013-2014 drought threatened crop production in California. As one result, boreal peat dries and catches fire like a coal seam. The resulting soot enters the atmosphere to fall again, coating the ice surface elsewhere, thus reducing albedo and hastening the melting of ice. Each of these individual phenomena has been reported, albeit rarely, but to my knowledge the dots have not been connected beyond this space. The inability or unwillingness of the media to connect two dots is not surprising, and has been routinely reported (recently including here with respect to climate change and wildfires) (July 2013)

19. Arctic ice is growing darker, hence less reflective (Nature Climate Change, August 2013)

20. Extreme weather events drive climate change, as reported in the 15 August 2013 issue of Nature (Nature, August 2013)

21. Drought-induced mortality of trees contributes to increased decomposition of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and decreased sequestration of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Such mortality has been documented throughout the world since at least November 2000 in Nature, with recent summaries in the February 2013 issue of Nature for the tropics and in the August 2013 issue of Frontiers in Plant Science for temperate North America.

One extremely important example of this phenomenon is occurring in the Amazon, where drought in 2010 led to the release of more carbon than the United States that year (Science, February 2011). In addition, ongoing deforestation in the region is driving declines in precipitation at a rate much faster than long thought, as reported in the 19 July 2013 issue of Geophysical Research Letters. An overview of the phenomenon, focused on the Amazon, was provided by Climate News Network on 5 March 2014.

22. Ocean acidification leads to release of less dimethyl sulphide (DMS) by plankton. DMS shields Earth from radiation. (Nature Climate Change, online 25 August 2013). Plankton form the base of the marine food web, and are on the verge of disappearing completely, according to a paper in the 17 October 2013 issue of Global Change Biology. As with carbon dioxide, ocean acidification is occurring rapidly, according to a paper in the 26 March 2014 issue of Global Biogeochemical Cycles.

23. Sea-level rise causes slope collapse, tsunamis, and release of methane, as reported in the September 2013 issue of Geology. In eastern Siberia, the speed of coastal erosion has nearly doubled during the last four decades as the permafrost melts.

24. Rising ocean temperatures will upset natural cycles of carbon dioxide, nitrogen and phosphorus, hence reducing plankton (Nature Climate Change, September 2013)

25. Earthquakes trigger methane release, and consequent warming of the planet triggers earthquakes, as reported by Sam Carana at the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (October 2013)

26. Small ponds in the Canadian Arctic are releasing far more methane than expected based on their aerial cover (PLoS ONE, November 2013). This is the first of several freshwater ecosystems releasing methane into the atmosphere, as reviewed in the 19 March 2014 issue of Nature.

27. Mixing of the jet stream is a catalyst, too. High methane releases follow fracturing of the jet stream, accounting for past global-average temperature rises up to 16 C in a decade or two (Paul Beckwith via video on 19 December 2013).

28. Research indicates that “fewer clouds form as the planet warms, meaning less sunlight is reflected back into space, driving temperatures up further still” (Nature, January 2014)

29. “Thawing permafrost promotes microbial degradation of cryo-sequestered and new carbon leading to the biogenic production of methane” (Nature Communications, February 2014)

30. Over the tropical West Pacific there is a natural, invisible hole extending over several thousand kilometers in a layer that prevents transport of most of the natural and man-made substances into the stratosphere by virtue of its chemical composition. Like in a giant elevator, many chemical compounds emitted at the ground pass thus unfiltered through this so-called “detergent layer” of the atmosphere. Global methane emissions from wetlands are currently about 165 teragrams (megatons metric) each year. This research estimates that annual emissions from these sources will increase by between 17 and 260 megatons annually. By comparison, the total annual methane emission from all sources (including the human addition) is about 600 megatons each year. (Nature Geoscience, February 2014)

31. Deep ocean currents apparently are slowing. According to one of the authors of the paper, “we’re likely going to see less uptake of human produced, or anthropogenic, heat and carbon dioxide by the ocean, making this a positive feedback loop for climate change.” Because this phenomenon contributed to cooling and sinking of the Weddell polynya: “it’s always possible that the giant polynya will manage to reappear in the next century. If it does, it will release decades-worth of heat and carbon from the deep ocean to the atmosphere in a pulse of warming.” (Nature Climate Change, February 2014; model results indicate “large spatial redistribution of ocean carbon,” as reported in the March 2014 issue of the Journal of Climate)

32. Arctic drilling was fast-tracked by the Obama administration during the summer of 2012

33. Supertankers are taking advantage of the slushy Arctic, demonstrating that every catastrophe represents a business opportunity, as pointed out by Professor of journalism Michael I. Niman and picked up by Truthout (ArtVoice, September 2013)

34. Asian pollution resulting from economic growth contribute to increased intensity of storms in western North America (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, April 2014)

As nearly as I can distinguish, only the latter three feedback processes are reversible at a temporal scale relevant to our species. Once you pull the tab on the can of beer, there’s no keeping the carbon dioxide from bubbling up and out. These feedbacks are not additive, they are multiplicative: They not only reinforce within a feedback, the feedbacks also reinforce among themselves (as realized even by Business Insider on 3 October 2013). Now that we’ve entered the era of expensive oil, I can’t imagine we’ll voluntarily terminate the process of drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic (or anywhere else). Nor will we willingly forgo a few dollars by failing to take advantage of the long-sought Northwest Passage or make any attempt to slow economic growth.

Robin Westenra provides an assessment of these positive feedbacks at Seemorerocks on 14 July 2013. It’s worth a look.

See how far we’ve come

Never mind that American naturalist George Perkins Marsh predicted anthropogenic climate change as a result of burning fossil fuels in 1847. Never mind the warning issued by filmmaker Frank Capra in 1958 or the one issued by Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich in his 1973 article in Le Monde: “the impact of industrially packaged quanta of energy on the social environment tends to be degrading, exhausting, and enslaving, and these effects come into play even before those which threaten the pollution of the physical environment and the extinction of the (human) race.” Never mind the 1986 warning from NASA’s Robert Watson of “human misery in a few decades” and eventual human extinction as a result of climate change. Never mind that climate risks have been underestimated for the last 20 Years, or that the IPCC’s efforts have failed miserably (David Wasdell’s scathing indictment of the vaunted Fifth Assessment is archived here. After all, climate scientist Kevin Anderson tells us what I’ve known for years: politicians and the scientists writing official reports on climate change are lying, and we have less time than most people can imagine. (Consider the minor example of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “underestimating” by 100 to 1,000 times the methane release associated with hydro-fracturing to extract natural gas, as reported in the 14 April 2014 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.) Never mind David Wasdell pointed out in 2008 that we must have a period of negative radiative forcing merely to end up with a stable, non-catastrophic climate system. Never mind that even the Atlantic is displaying “five charts about climate change that should have you very, very worried.” Never mind that atmospheric carbon dioxide is affecting satellites. Never mind that even the occasional economic analyst is telling climate scientists to be persuasive, be brave, and be arrested. Never mind that Peruvian ice requiring 1,600 years to accumulate has melted in the last 25 years, according to a paper in the 4 April 2013 issue of Science. And never mind that summer warming in the interior of large continents in the northern hemisphere has outstripped model predictions in racing to 6-7 C since the last Glacial Maximum, according to a paper that tallies temperature rise in China’s interior in the 15 May 2013 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And finally, never mind that the IPCC’s projections have been revealed as too conservative time after time, including low-balling the impact of emissions, as pointed out in the 9 March 2014 issue of Nature Climate Change. On 24 March 2014, renowned climate scientist Michael Mann commented on climate change as reported in the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment: “It’s not far-off in the future and it’s not exotic creatures — it’s us and now.” As the Fifth Assessment admits, climate change has already left its mark “on all continents and across the oceans.”

Never mind all that: Future temperatures likely will be at the higher end of the projected range because the forecasts are all too conservative and also because climate negotiations won’t avert catastrophe.

Through late March 2013, global oceans have risen approximately ten millimeters per year during the last two years. This rate of rise is over three times the rate of sea level rise during the time of satellite-based observations from 1993 to the present. Ocean temperatures are rising, and have been impacting global fisheries for four decades, according to the 16 May 2013 issue of Nature.

Actually, catastrophe is already here, although it’s not widely distributed in the United States. Well, not yet, even though the continental U.S. experienced its highest temperature ever in 2012, shattering the 1998 record by a full degree Fahrenheit. But the east coast of North America experienced its hottest water temperatures all the way to the bottom of the ocean. The epic dust bowl of 2012 grew and grew and grew all summer long. As pointed out in the March 2004 issue of Geophysical Research Letters, disappearing sea ice is expectedly contributing to the drying of the western United States (more definitive research on the topic appeared in the December 2005 issue of Earth Interactions). Equally expectedly, the drought arrived 40 years early.

Even James Hansen and Makiko Sato are asking whether the loss of ice on Greenland has gone exponential (while ridiculously calling for a carbon tax to “fix” the “problem”), and the tentative answer is not promising, based on very recent data, including a nearly five-fold increase in melting of Greenland’s ice since the 1990s and a stunning melting of 98 percent of Greenland’s ice surface between 8 and 15 July 2012. The mainstream media are finally taking notice, with the 18 July 2013 issue of Washington Post reporting the ninth highest April snow cover in the northern hemisphere giving way to the third lowest snow cover on record the following month (relevant records date to 1967, and the article is headlined, “Snow and Arctic sea ice extent plummet suddenly as globe bakes”).

On a particularly dire note for humanity, climate change causes early death of 400,000 people each year causes early death of five million people each year. Adding to our misery are interactions between various aspects of environmental decay. For example, warming in the Arctic is causing the release of toxic chemicals long trapped in the region’s snow, ice, ocean and soil, according to research published in the 24 July 2011 issue of Nature Climate Change.

Greenhouse-gas emissions keep rising, and keep setting records. According to 10 June 2013 report by the International Energy Agency, the horrific trend continued in 2012, when carbon dioxide emissions set a record for the fifth consecutive year. The trend puts disaster in the cross-hairs, with the ever-conservative International Energy Agency claiming we’re headed for a temperature in excess of 5 C.

Completely contrary to the popular contrarian myth, global warming has accelerated, with more overall global warming in the 15 years up to March 2013 than the prior 15 years. This warming has resulted in about 90% of overall global warming going into heating the oceans, and the oceans have been warming dramatically, according to a paper published in the March 2013 issue of Geophysical Research Letters. A paper in the 20 March 2014 issue of Environmental Research Letters points out that surface temperatures poorly measure global warming. Even Slate magazine figured it out by 5 November 2013, and The Guardian‘s headline from 13 November 2013 announces, “Global warming since 1997 more than twice as fast as previously estimated, new study shows.” About 30% of the ocean warming over the past decade has occurred in the deeper oceans below 700 meters, which is unprecedented over at least the past half century. According to a paper in the 1 November 2013 issue of Science, the rate of warming of the Pacific Ocean during the last 60 years is 15 times faster than at any time during the last 10,000 years. By the end of 2013, the fourth-hottest year on record, the deep oceans were warming particularly rapidly and NASA and NOAA reported no pause in the long-term warming trend.In 2013 ocean warming rapidly escalated, rising to a rate in excess of 12 Hiroshima bombs per second — over three times the recent trend.” When the heat going into the ocean begins to influence land-surface temperatures, “rapid warming is expected,” according to a paper published 9 February 2014 in Nature Climate Change. According to James Wight, writing for Skeptical Science on 12 March 2014, “Earth is gaining heat faster than ever.”

Coincident with profound ocean warming, the death spiral of Arctic sea ice is well under way, as shown in the video below. As reported in the 22 February 2014 issue of Geophysical Research Letters, sea-surface temperatures have increased 0.5 to 1.5 C during the last decade. “The seven lowest September sea ice extents in the satellite record have all occurred in the past seven years.

In the category of myth busting comes recent research published in the August 2013 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Contrary to the notion that changing solar radiation is responsible for rising global temperature, the amount of solar radiation passing through Earth’s atmosphere and reaching the ground globally peaked in the 1930s, substantially decreased from the 1940s to the 1970s, and changed little after that. Indeed, the current solar activity cycle is the weakest in a century. In addition, according to a paper in the 22 December 2013 issue of Nature GeoScience, climate change has not been strongly influenced by variations in heat from the sun.

Global loss of sea ice matches the trend in the Arctic. It’s down, down, and down some more, with the five lowest values on record all happening in the last seven years (through 2012). As reported in a June 2013 issue of Science, the Antarctic’s ice shelves are melting from below. When interviewed for the associated article in the 13 June 2013 issue of National Geographic, scientists expressed surprise at the rate of change. Color me shocked. Three months later, the 13 September 2013 issue of Science contains another surprise for mainstream scientists: The Pine Island Glacier is melting from below as a result of warming seawater. And four months after that dire assessment, the massive glacier was melting irreversibly, according to a paper in the 12 January 2014 issue of Nature Climate Change (Robert Scribbler provides an overview of the latter phenomenon).

Then see where we’re going

The climate situation is much worse than I’ve led you to believe, and is accelerating far more rapidly than accounted for by models. Even the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledges, in a press release dated 6 June 2013, potentially lethal heat waves on the near horizon. Piling on a month later, the World Meteorological Organization pointed out that Earth experienced unprecedented recorded climate extremes during the decade 2001-2010, contributing to more than a 2,000 percent increase in heat-related deaths.

Although climate change’s heat — not cold — is the real killer, according to research published in the December 2013 issue of the Journal of Economic Literature, swings in temperature may be even more lethal than high temperatures. Specifically, research published in the 29 January 2014 issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London indicates insects are particularly vulnerable to temperature swings.

Ice sheet loss continues to increase at both poles, and warming of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is twice the earlier scientific estimate. Arctic ice at all-time low, half that of 1980, and the Arctic lost enough sea ice to cover Canada and Alaska in 2012 alone. In short, summer ice in the Arctic is nearly gone. Furthermore, the Arctic could well be free of ice by summer 2015, an event that last occurred some three million years ago, before the genus Homo walked the planet. Among the consequences of declining Arctic ice is extremes in cold weather in northern continents (thus illustrating why “climate change” is a better term than “global warming”). In a turn surprising only to mainstream climate scientists, Greenland ice is melting rapidly.

Even the conservative International Energy Agency (IEA) has thrown in the towel, concluding that “renewable” energy is not keeping up with the old, dirty standard sources. As a result, the IEA report dated 17 April 2013 indicates the development of low-carbon energy is progressing too slowly to limit global warming.

The Arctic isn’t Vegas — what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic — it’s the planet’s air conditioner. In fact, as pointed out 10 June 2013 by research scientist Charles Miller of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory: “Climate change is already happening in the Arctic, faster than its ecosystems can adapt. Looking at the Arctic is like looking at the canary in the coal mine for the entire Earth system.” In addition, “average summer temperatures in the Canadian Arctic are now at the highest they’ve been for approaching 50,000 years” (and perhaps up to 120,000 years) according to a paper published online 23 October 2013 in Geophysical Research Letters. On the topic of rapidity of change, a paper in the August 2013 issue of Ecology Letters points out that rates of projected climate change dramatically exceed past rates of climatic niche evolution among vertebrate species. In other words, vertebrates cannot evolve or adapt rapidly enough to keep up with ongoing and projected changes in climate.

How critical is Arctic ice? Whereas nearly 80 calories are required to melt a gram of ice at 0 C, adding 80 calories to the same gram of water at 0 C increases its temperature to 80 C. Anthropogenic greenhouse-gas emissions add more than 2.5 trillion calories to Earth’s surface every hour (ca. 3 watts per square meter, continuously).

Ocean acidification associated with increased atmospheric carbon dioxide is proceeding at an unprecedented rate — the fastest in 300 million years — leading to great simplification of ecosystems, and capable of triggering mass extinction by itself. Already, half the Great Barrier Reef has died during the last three decades and the entire marine food web is threatened. As with many attributes, the Arctic Ocean leads the way in acidification. Similarly to the long lag in temperature relative to increase greenhouse gas emissions, changes in ocean acidity lag far behind alterations in atmospheric carbon dioxide, as reported in the 21 February 2014 issue of Environmental Research Letters.

An increasing number of scientists agree that warming of 4 to 6 C causes a dead planet. And, they go on to say, we’ll be there much sooner than most people realize. Earth-system scientist Clive Hamilton concludes in his April 2013 book Earthmasters that “without [atmospheric sulphates associated with industrial activity] … Earth would be an extra 1.1 C warmer.” In other words, collapse takes us directly to 2 C within a matter of weeks. According to a paper in the 24 November 2013 issue of Nature Climate Change, warming of the planet will continue long after emissions cease. Several other academic scientists have concluded, in the refereed journal literature no less, that the 2 C mark is essentially impossible (for example, see the review paper by Mark New and colleagues published in the 29 November 2010 issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A). The German Institute for International and Security Affairs concluded 2 June 2013 that a 2 C rise in global-average temperature is no longer feasible (and Spiegel agrees, finally, in their 7 June 2013 issue), while the ultra-conservative International Energy Agency concludes that, “coal will nearly overtake oil as the dominant energy source by 2017 … without a major shift away from coal, average global temperatures could rise by 6 degrees Celsius by 2050, leading to devastating climate change.” At the 11:20 mark of this video, climate scientist Paul Beckwith indicates Earth could warm by 6 C within a decade. If you think his view is extreme, consider (1) the 5 C rise in global-average temperature 55 million years ago during a span of 13 years (reported in the 1 October 2013 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), and also (2) the reconstruction of regional and global temperature for the past 11,300 years published in Science in March 2013. One result is shown in the figure below.

Marcott et al temperature reconstruction wheelchair

It’s not merely scientists who know where we’re going. The Pentagon is bracing for public dissent over climate and energy shocks, as reported by Nafeez Ahmed in the 14 June 2013 issue of the Guardian. According to Ahmed’s article: “Top secret US National Security Agency (NSA) documents disclosed by the Guardian have shocked the world with revelations of a comprehensive US-based surveillance system with direct access to Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft and other tech giants. New Zealand court records suggest that data harvested by the NSA’s Prism system has been fed into the Five Eyes intelligence alliance whose members also include the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.” In short, the “Pentagon knows that environmental, economic and other crises could provoke widespread public anger toward government and corporations” and is planning accordingly. Such “activity is linked to the last decade of US defence planning, which has been increasingly concerned by the risk of civil unrest at home triggered by catastrophic events linked to climate change, energy shocks or economic crisis — or all three.” In their 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, the U.S. military concludes: “Climate change poses another significant challenge for the United States and the world at large. As greenhouse gas emissions increase, sea levels are rising, average global temperatures are increasing, and severe weather patterns are accelerating.” The global police state has arrived, and it’s accompanied by a subtle changes in Earth’s rotation that result from the melting of glaciers and ice sheets (i.e., climate change is causing Earth’s poles to shift).