Climate Change and the Mitigation Myth

It is not nice to be told that you have been diagnosed with a terminal condition. It is even worse to be given false hope that if you did this or that you could mitigate the problem or turn it around when it cannot. If a medical practitioner does this, they lose their job. But climate scientists do this frequently, and probably to keep their job. It is virtue-signalling to agree with national and international climate agreements which propose that we can fix this by reducing (mitigating) our carbon footprint and carbon emissions… and so continue ‘business as usual’ and live happily ever after.

My response to this is in three sections:

  1. Anthropogenic (human-induced) warming from greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must be understood in the context of the natural carbon cycle, which until about 150 years ago was in equilibrium.
  2. The mitigation myth is that we can reduce the effects of worsening climate change by reducing anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions e.g., net-zero by 2050, or earlier.
  3. The big problem is not climate change. It is global ecological overshoot: when our ecological footprint exceeds biocapacity or sustainability. Global warming is a result. Overshoot leads to collapse and eventual extinction. The planet is now in irreversible collapse.

1. The Carbon Cycle is out of Equilibrium

Greenhouse gases (GHG) are necessary in the atmosphere to keep the planet warm at an average of 15°C surface temperature.[1] The level of natural GHGs in the atmosphere has been in equilibrium for millennia because the earth has both emitted and absorbed natural GHGs in mostly equal measure (the natural carbon cycle). This all changed with the industrial revolution, about 1750. Since then, anthropogenic or human-caused greenhouse gases have almost doubled the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, and this has been the main driver of global warming. The problem has been compounded by the destruction of carbon absorbing plants and forests.

There is a direct correlation between CO2 concentration and global average temperature over the last 300,000 years. During that time, and until recently, CO2 concentrations have not exceeded 300 parts per million. The level is now 414 ppm and rising.

The total Global Greenhouse Gas emissions, as described above, comprise:

  1. Natural systems, including forest fires and decomposition, oceans, wetlands, etc.
  2. Anthropogenic (human caused) greenhouse gas emissions, largely from burning fossil fuels and agriculture.

A scientific paper from 2018 indicated that the global annual GHG emissions were approximately 54 – 75 Gt CO2-eq.[2] Of this, natural emissions accounted for 18.13 – 39.30 Gt CO2-eq, and anthropogenic emissions accounted for approximately 55.46% of the total global GHGs emissions (2016 value).[3] The anthropogenic (human-caused) emissions have now escalated beyond the capacity of natural systems to capture carbon and keep the ecosystem in equilibrium, resulting in global warming. This warming has in turn amplified GHG emissions from natural systems. So, natural GHG emissions are now rising at such a rate that reducing (or mitigating) anthropogenic emissions to reduce global surface temperature (or slow the increase of temperature) is a lost cause.

The oceans are both a carbon sink and a carbon source. Cold oceans are a carbon sink, and warm oceans become a carbon source. This will be amplified during the next El Niño. Wetlands are a major source of natural CH4 emissions, and more so as temperatures rise. Perhaps the most dramatic change in the last few years has been the massive and ever-increasing GHS emissions from the warming arctic… thawing permafrost, burning forests, etc. Of particular concern is the melting of permafrost in the shallow waters off the East Siberian Sea, and the probability of a 50 gigaton burst of methane.[4] That is almost as much as the current total GHG annual emissions! But even if we ignore this (as does the IPCC), the increase of methane from thawing permafrost on land in the arctic is accelerating at an alarming rate.

One indication that natural GHG emissions have exceeded human GHG emissions in 2020 is that during the last year of COVID-19 lockdowns and industrial slowdowns, the total atmospheric CO2 levels have not dropped but continue to increase.

2. The Mitigation Myth

So, let’s get real about mitigation…

  1. The inertia of the climate system and global warming delays the emergence of any discernible response even to strong sustained mitigation. Even net-zero emissions by 2050, if that were possible, would not see measurable effects for at least a decade or two later.[5] In the meantime, the planet continues to warm from emissions from the last 20 to 40 years, plus the emissions in the present.
  2. The GHS emissions from nature itself continue to increase, as I have already mentioned, thus more than offsetting any human mitigation. We have left mitigation way too late. Effective mitigation needed to start last century, and before anthropogenic GHG emissions and consequential global warming triggered increased natural GHG emissions.
  3. Multiple self-amplifying climate feedback loops.[6] These include the following[7]:

    Permafrost melting, and release of GHGs.[8]
    Forests – deforestation, fires, etc.[9]
    Loss of ice and the albedo effect.[10]
    Atmosphere, water vapour, polar vortex, etc.[11]

    These feedback loops have been triggered by our carbon emissions. But they are not a part of the feedback loops. It is therefore fallacious and misleading to suggest that by reducing or eliminating human GHG emissions that the accelerating feedback loop could be slowed down or even reversed!

The rate of change in these feedback loops begin slowly then accelerate exponentially and not in a linear fashion.[12] That is the very nature of a feedback loop.

The oceans are warming (as reported by the IPCC), causing atmospheric warming and ‘irreversible’ climate change.[13] It is just not possible to mitigate this. There is also the aerosol masking effect.[14] The pollution particles in the atmosphere shield the planet from the sun. When those particles are removed or pollution emissions are reduced, the earth warms up. This means that reducing anthropogenic GHGs also often means a reduction in aerosol particles, and the latter has a warming effect almost immediately. This, along with the rise in natural GHG emissions, is an explanation for why the planet has continued to warm during the COVID lockdowns and industrial slowdowns in 2020, despite a 25% drop in anthropogenic GHG emissions in 2020. There has been reduced aerosol particle pollution (shielding from the sun), thus warming the planet.

The planet is warming. This warming is accelerating. It is irreversible. It is nothing short of cognitive dissonance (when you know these facts) to believe that reductions in human generated GHGs can mitigate this.

Following the Failures of Others

There are three main international policies that guide most mitigation proposals, including here in New Zealand.[15] These are:

  1. The United Nations Framework Convention and Climate Change (UNFCCC)
  2. The Kyoto Protocol (1997)
  3. The Paris Agreement (2016)

However, these agreements have been ineffective in reducing carbon emissions. That is because (1) “Global problems require global solutions” (António Guterres, UN Secretary General), and countries have been unable to agree on common solutions, thus allowing different mitigation goals for different countries, and even some countries withdrawing from agreements e.g. the USA.[16]  (2) There is a disconnect between what governments pledge in terms of reductions in carbon emissions and their plans to increase fossil fuel production 50% by 2030.[17] Between 2020 and 2024, the oil and gas industry plans to spend US$1.4 trillion on new extraction projects.[18] (3) UN Climate Change Conferences, like COP25 (2019), now block the science, including reports from the IPCC.[19]

The facts about climate change are too inconvenient for maintaining economic growth and the ongoing exploitation of finite resources. “Anyone who thinks that you can have infinite growth in a finite environment is either a madman or an economist,” says Sir David Attenborough. Also, carbon emissions must be understood in terms of biocapacity and ecological footprint (see following section), and not in isolation from that. Also, “climate change that takes place due to increases in carbon dioxide concentration is largely irreversible for 1,000 years after emissions stop.”[20]

3. Collapse & Adaptation / Resilience

Climate change must be understood as resulting from overshoot, and in the context of the broader collapse of the biosphere. This poses an existential threat to all life on the planet.

We cannot talk about a climate crisis without talking about an environmental crisis. And we cannot talk about a climate crisis without talking about the global environmental and climate crises. It is then better to consider our ecological footprint rather than just a carbon footprint (which does not consider biocapacity).[21] An ecological deficit occurs when the ‘ecological footprint’ of a population exceeds the biocapacity of the area available to that population.[22] A national ecological deficit (overshoot) means that a nation is importing biocapacity through trade, liquidating national ecological assets or emitting carbon dioxide waste into the atmosphere. An ecological reserve exists when the biocapacity of a region exceeds its population’s ecological footprint. In New Zealand our biocapacity exceeds our ecological footprint by 112%. In China the ecological footprint exceeds biocapacity (i.e. overshoot) by 302%, and in the USA by 133%. Globally we are in overshoot by about 60%, needing 1.6 earths to sustain current global population and consumption levels. The climate crisis is a consequence of this overshoot.[23]

We must also add to this the ongoing destruction, degradation, and polluting of habitat for animal and plant life. The planet is broken, and the natural world, including its climate, is collapsing.[24]

There is a climate emergency,[25] and 2020 has been a year of weather and climate breaking records:

  • The hottest year on record for Europe and the Arctic. New records include 38°C in the Arctic, 54.4°C in Death Valley in the Mojave Desert, California. All this during a La Niña and solar minimum. It will get a lot warmer during the next El Niño, especially in the Pacific Ocean region!
  • Thirty major Atlantic storms. Typhoon Goni in the Philippines, with winds up to 313 kmph.
  • Record atmospheric carbon dioxide levels (414 ppm) despite record ‘human’ carbon emission reduction from COVID-19 lockdowns.[26]
  • Net greenhouse gas emissions from nature itself (CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide) further surpassing direct human related emissions (e.g. from industry, agriculture, etc.).
  • Polar ice melting. Arctic sea ice extent the second lowest on record. The current trend of ice loss leads to an ice-free arctic in 2025 – 2030. As the President of Finland, Sauli Niinistö, said in 2017, “If we lose the Arctic, we lose the whole world.”
  • Ocean warming and acidification. Warming oceans evaporate more water, and a warming atmosphere holds about 7 percent more moisture per 1°C of warming. Upper ocean temperatures hit a record high in 2020.
  • Magnified disruption of the polar jet-streams, dragging warm air into polar regions, and cold air into outside-polar regions, causing extreme and out-of-season weather events..
  • Record bush and forest fires around the globe, including the arctic. Destruction of forests and increased desertification. The Amazon rainforest has reached the tipping-point towards irreversible destruction.

The biosphere is collapsing,[27] and “no species persists long without habitat, not even the clever ones” (Guy McPherson).[28] Extinction is inevitable.[29]

The Predicament

Problems may be solved. Predicaments usually cannot. Back in 2009, Richard Lazarus described this as a “super wicked problem.”[30] Because…

  1. Time is running out.
  2. There is no central authority.
  3. Those seeking to solve the problem are also causing it.
  4. Policies discount the future irrationally.

Now in 2021 it is evident that…

  1. Time has already run out to solve this problem and evert collapse.[31] Hence the predicament.
  2. There is no central authority (even the United Nations) that has the power to address this problem.[32]
  3. We are the problem.[33]
  4. It is irrational not to recognize that we are now on an irreversible path of biosphere collapse, which involves escalating climate catastrophes, and eventual extinction.

Greta Thurnberg said “the house is on fire,” and Sir David Attenborough recently asked her “are you an optimist or a pessimist?” She answered, “neither, I’m a realist.”  There is no place here for hopium, nor the popular ‘Bob the Builder’ dictum, “Can we fix it? Yes we can!”

Short Reading List

Andrew Glikson, The Event Horizon: Homo Prometheus and the Climate Catastrophe (Springer Nature, 2020)

William R. Catton, Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change (University of Illinois Press, 1982)

Pablo Servigne, How Everything Can Collapse: A Manual for Our Times (2015)
& Raphaël Stevens         [English translation 2020, Polity Press]

Peter Wadhams, A Farewell to Ice: A Report from the Arctic (Penguin Press, 2017)

David Wallace-Wells, The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming (Tim Duggan Books, 2019). The opening paragraph begins… “It is worse, much worse, than you think. The slowness of climate change is a fairy tale, perhaps as pernicious as the one that says it isn’t happening at all, and comes bundled with several others in an anthology of comforting delusions: ….”

Dahr Jamail, The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Destruction (The New Press, New York, 2019)

Guy R. McPherson, Only Love Remains: Dancing at the Edge of Extinction (Woodthrush Publications, 2019). ‘The Myth of Sustainability’ Earth & Environmental Science Research & Reviews, Volume 3, Issue 3, 8 July 2020.  https://opastonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/the-myth-of-sustainability-eesrr-20.pdf

‘Earth is in the Midst of Abrupt, Irreversible Climate Change’ Journal of Earth and Environmental Sciences Research, Volume 2 (2), 25 May 2020. https://www.onlinescientificresearch.com/articles/earth-is-in-the-midst-of-abrupt-irreversible-climate-change.pdf

Julian Cribb, Surviving the 21st Century: Humanity’s Ten Great Challenges and How We Can Overcome Them (Springer Nature, 2016)

George Tsakraklides , The Age of Separateness and the climate change within (2019), Disposable Earth: How and why we gave our planet an expiration date (2020)

William Ophuls, Apologies to the Grandchildren: Reflections on Our Ecological Predicament, Its Deeper Causes, and Its Political Consequences (2018)

William Ophuls, Immoderate Greatness: Why Civilizations Fail (2012)

Roy Scranton, Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of Civilization (2015)

Roy Scranton, We’re Doomed. Now What?: Essays on War and Climate Change (2018)

Michael Huesemann, Techno-Fix: Why Technology Won’t Save Us or the Environment (New Society Publishers, 2011)

Videos / Websites

Arthur Keller  ‘Collapse: The Only Realistic Scenario’ This, in my opinion, is the best explanation of what happens when the ecological footprint exceeds biocapacity.  https://youtu.be/qPb_0JZ6-Rc

Michael Dowd  ‘Irreversible Collapse: Accepting Reality, Avoiding Evil’(29th December 2020) https://youtu.be/iQeK04WOGaA  See also the many resources at http://postdoom.com/resources/

Kevin Hester  https://kevinhester.live/ Kevin Hester lives on Rakino Island in the Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand.

Guy McPherson  Nature Bats Last https://guymcpherson.com/

Paul Beckwith  See Paul’s YouTube Channel – https://www.youtube.com/user/PaulHBeckwith  

In addition to the articles cited in the footnotes, there are these recent alarming scientific papers…

‘Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future’ by Bradshaw Corey J. A., Ehrlich Paul R., Beattie Andrew, Ceballos Gerardo, Crist Eileen, Diamond Joan, Dirzo Rodolfo, Ehrlich Anne H., Harte John, Harte Mary Ellen, Pyke Graham, Raven Peter H., Ripple William J., Saltré Frédérik, Turnbull Christine, Wackernagel Mathis, Blumstein Daniel T. Frontiers in Conservation Science Journal, Volume 1, 2021 (Published 13 January 2021). https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fcosc.2020.615419

‘Upper Ocean Temperatures Hit Record High in 2020’, Cheng, L., Abraham, J., Trenberth, K.E. et al. Advances in Atmospheric Sciences (12 January 2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00376-021-0447-x

‘Insect decline in the Anthropocene: Death by a thousand cuts’ by David Wagner, Eliza Grames, Matthew Forister, May Berenbaum, and David Stopak  PNAS, 12 January 2021, 118 (2)
https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2023989118

‘How close are we to the temperature tipping point of the terrestrial biosphere?’ by Katharyn Duffy, Christopher Schwalm, Vickery Arcus, George Koch, Liyin Liang, and Louis Schipper, Science Advances, Vol. 7, No.3 (13 January 2021) https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/7/3/eaay1052/tab-pdf

‘Net Zero and Other Climate Delusions’ by Elisabeth Robson, 9 January 2021
https://dgrnewsservice.org/civilization/ecocide/climate-change/net-zero-and-other-climate-delusions/

What if we stopped Pretending? – The climate apocalypse is coming. To prepare for it, we need to admit that we can’t prevent it.’ by Jonathan Franzen, The New Yorker (8 September 2019)
https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/what-if-we-stopped-pretending


Footnotes

[1] The main greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere are water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and ozone (O3).

[2] Xi-Liu Yue and Qing-Xian Gao ‘Contributions of natural systems and human activity to greenhouse gas emissions’ Advances in Climate Change Research, Volume 9, Issue 4 (December 2018), pages 243-252. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.accre.2018.12.003  

[3] New Zealand contributes 0.17% of global emissions.

[4] Dr. Peter Wadham, Professor Emeritus University of Cambridge. See Robert Hunziker ‘Menacing Methane – An Analysis’ Counterpunch (15 December 2020).

[5] Samset, B.H., Fuglestvedt, J.S. & Lund, M.T. ‘Delayed emergence of a global temperature response after emission mitigation’, Nature Communications Journal 11, 3261 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-17001-1  

[6] A self-reinforcing feedback is an accelerating process that occurs in a feedback loop which exacerbates the effects of a small disturbance. That is, A produces more of B which in turn produces more of A. (Wikipedia).

[7] See the recent short documentary series at https://feedbackloopsclimate.com  This is an excellent series of short documentaries. But they each end with the ludicrous suggestion that it is possible to reverse these feedback loops. As I explain shortly, that is impossible.

[8] ‘Permafrost – Climate Emergency: Feedback Loops’. https://youtu.be/e44IYZ-gQnE

[9] ‘Forests – Feedback Loops: Climate Change’. https://youtu.be/Ixh5JMmbuLw

[10] ‘Albedo – Climate Emergency: Feedback Loops’ https://youtu.be/HNqTxBHgC0Y

[11] ‘Atmosphere – Climate Emergency: Feedback Loops’ https://youtu.be/mmHlAzZ7qKw  Warming causes more moisture in the atmosphere (a GHG), disruption of the Jetstream, and warmer oceans…. another feedback-loop.

[12] “The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function” (Albert A. Bartlett)

[13] The word ‘irreversible’ is used many times in the IPCC report, 2019: IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate. https://www.ipcc.ch/srocc/

[14] The BBC Documentary on Global Dimming (2007) is still one of the best explanations for this. https://youtu.be/oPj6K9TR1Tk   

[15] New Zealand ‘The Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019’… “reduce net emissions of all greenhouse gases (except biogenic methane) to zero by 2050.”

[16] “The ecologically necessary is politically infeasible, but the politically feasible is ecologically irrelevant” – Professor Emeritus William Rees, University of British Columbia. Originator of ecological footprint concept.

[17] The Production Gap Report 2019, http://productiongap.org/2019report/  

[18] Oil, Gas and The Climate: An Analysis of Oil and Gas Industry Plans for Expansion and Compatibility with Global Emission Limits (Global Gas and Oil Network, December 2019) http://ggon.org/oilgasclimate2019/  

[19] Dr Peter Carter (IPCC expert reviewer)… https://youtu.be/oa13KrOvE2s  Economic growth is an imperative.

[20] Susan Solomon, Gian-Kasper Plattner, Reto Knutti, and Pierre Friedlingstein, ‘Irreversible climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions’ PNAS, February 10, 2009 106 (6) 1704-1709.

[21] https://data.footprintnetwork.org

[22] This crisis can be expressed as the direct result of over-population + over-consumption.

[23] Other ‘effects’ include crop failures and food shortages, civil unrest and political instability, migration, etc. Many recent reports from multiple sources predict this e.g., from Central Banks, Insurance companies, etc.

[24] The ‘State of the Planet’ address by António Guterres, UN Secretary General, on 2 December 2020. See also the 2020 UN Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 report, and the dismal failure to halt biosphere collapse. Setting new goals for the next five years to halt biodiversity collapse are ridiculous and not achievable given the almost total failure to meet the goals for the last five years.

[25] To date, 1,859 jurisdictions in 33 countries have issuedclimate emergency declarations covering more than 820 million people.

[26] The reduction is about 25%. See the UN Emissions Gap Report 2020 (December 2020).

[27] Pablo Servigne and Raphaël Stevens How Everything Can Collapse: A Manual for Our Times (2015, English Translation 2020).

[28] Guy R. McPherson, Only Love Remains: Dancing at the Edge of Extinction (2019).

[29] Planetary warming of 4°C will result in mass extinction for almost all species (including humans). See Giovanni Strona and Cory Bradshaw, ‘Co-extinctions annihilate planetary life during extreme environmental change. Scientific Reports, 8, 16724 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-35068-1  

[30] Richard Lazarus, ‘Super Wicked Problems and Climate Change: Restraining the Present to Liberate the Future’ Cornell Law Review. 94 (5, 2009): 1153–1233.

[31] See the following ‘Reading List’ on collapse. To use an analogy, the planet is in hospice.

[32] Besides, politics at a national level (if not all levels) seems to be more about popularity than policy.

[33] We are Homo Narcissus. “Around two thirds of global emissions are linked to private household activities according to consumption-based accounting.” UN Emissions Gap Report 2020 (December 2020), page xxiv, and chapter 6. Add to this the observation that “the emissions of the richest 1 per cent of the global population account for more than twice the combined share of the poorest 50 per cent.”

Living and Dying

My previous post was probably too hard to swallow for many who believe to be true only what they want to be true. Besides, talking about death is a ‘turn-off’ for many. We prefer illusions of immortality. But the good news is that the post was as much about life as death. It is about living and dying. You cannot have either life or death without the other. They are ‘two sides of the same coin’. Many people are not good at living and dying. I hope that what I say here may help you with life and death and enable you to face the reality of not only your own life and death, but also that of the entire planet.   Most people seek to overcome death or escape from it. This quest has its roots in the instinct for self-preservation, something we share will all animals. But humans seem uniquely good at blocking out the obvious, that we are going to die and that death could come to us at any time. We buy into some fictional notion of immortality, or we block out the inevitable. This diminishes our appreciation and valuing life in the present. It increases death anxiety. However, facing death is life affirming…

“Turning away from a flight from death, you see a horizon of opportunity that puts you in a state of anticipatory resoluteness with solicitous regard for others that makes your life seem like an adventure perfused with unshakable joy.”

(Sheldon Solomon, with reference to Martin Heidegger)

In the so-called ‘developed’ western nations, individualism undermines social responsibility. “It’s all about me.” This is where personal freedom and determinism are considered inalienable rights. Consequently, people in these societies disconnect from each other, and nature, and themselves… and that is a kind of death! It is mostly people in these nations who escalate the global clusterfuck we call climate change, biosphere collapse, and extinction. It is mostly in these nations that we see the diabolical consequences of unfettered capitalism and consumerism… again expressions of individualism and selfish disconnectedness. It should come as no surprise then that climate change denialism, and optimism (“we can fix it”), is also greater here. It is people in these countries and cultures that struggle most with reality, with life and death. And that, in my opinion is a symptom of being disconnected from each other, disconnected from the planet, and disconnected from ourselves. That is the essence of death. The opposite is life. We can only truly live when in relationship with others, and when connected with all that is. So, what is the answer to living and dying? It is connectedness and the recognition that we are only who we are by virtue of the relationships that we have with others, and all of nature and the universe, and ourselves. There are a some of significant ‘pointers’ in the writings of others to guide us in the right direction in relation to this topic. These include:

  • Alan Watts (1915 – 1973). Watch or listen to his lectures on YouTube. One of my favorites is ‘Life is not a journey’ (4 minutes). I have listened to most of them and read most of his books. He is, in my opinion, the greatest recent thinker on these matters.
  • The wisdom and insights of Lao Tzu and Chuang-Tza from early Taoism (6th Century BC). See my presentation here. This, for me, provides the best non-religious perspective on reality.
  • George Tsakraklides, The Age of Separateness (2019). https://tsakraklides.com/

Some of the main points are these:

  • Be natural. Be connected. Life is living and loving.
  • Live in the ‘now’. The past has gone, and the future does not exist now. There is only the eternal now.
  • Know yourself.
  • Embrace life and death as natural.
  • “Shit happens.” It always has and always will. That too is natural.

Let’s get real about Climate Change, Collapse, and Extinction

We have a problem here on Planet Earth. We are on a trajectory to collapse, dystopia, and extinction.

Here are a some facts:

  • Global warming has resulted from human activity: population growth combined with increased consumerism, and related carbon emissions. There is a direct correlation between the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (causing warming) and human population numbers. The world population has tripled to 8 billion since I was born (late 1950s), and our ecological footprint now far exceeds the earth’s capacity to sustain it.

  • The planet is warming at a rate faster than any time in the last ten million years, and that rate of increase is accelerating. As a result, ice is melting… the ice over the Arctic is melting, the permafrost in the Arctic is melting, forests are burning. As I write this, parts of the Arctic are 20 degrees Celsius above what they would normally be! This is causing major changes to the weather globally (the northern jetream is very unstable). It is getting warmer everywhere! (see Scientific American 2018 article). The ‘methane bomb’ in the Arctic has been triggered. (Robert Hunziker).

  • As the ocean and land warms, more water is evaporated from it. As the atmosphere warms it holds more moisture, 7% more for every 1 degree Celsius (Kevin Hester). Consequently, we are seeing more extreme and more frequent flooding. Water vapor is also a ‘greenhouse gas’ leading to a still warmer and moist atmosphere.

  • Climate change and global warming is itself becoming the major driver of climate change and global warming (rather than just human activity). For example, the Arctic regions were once a ‘sink’ for absorbing CO2 but are now a source for carbon emissions (CO2 and methane). We have ‘lit the fuse’ and the consequences are evident. Warming is leading to increasingly more warming.

  • As a direct result of human activity, the habitat for life on this planet is being destroyed. Forests are disappearing on the land, and coral reefs (like the Great Barrier reef) in the oceans are dying or dead. “No species persists long without habitat, not even the clever ones” (Guy McPherson). It is estimated that since 1970 the earth has lost 83% of wild animals, 50% of plants, and 76% of insects. The rate of ‘disappearance’ accelerates, both for habitat and for life that depends on it. The current extinction rate for species is ten times faster than any previous mass extinction event on earth.

The ‘point of no return’ and ‘tipping points’

A ‘point of no return’ is when you can no longer turn around and return to a previous place. When an aircraft is taking off it can put on the brakes (abort takeoff) until it reaches halfway down the tarmac. We have passed the point of no return here on planet earth regarding a number of changes. It is too late to put on the brakes. There is no going back to ‘normal’ or the stable climate we have enjoyed for thousands of years.

Then there are ‘tipping points’. I’m sitting at a table with a glass of wine. The glass is on the table, and everything is stable and in equilibrium. But if I lift one side of the table the wine-glass reaches a tipping point, when all of a sudden there is abrupt and irreversible change… the glass (and unfortunately the wine too) tips over and is lost. There are many tipping points that we are approaching or have passed here on planet earth regarding climate and biosphere collapse. These abrupt and irreversible processes including the melting of permafrost, the drying of rainforests, and the acidification of oceans. Catastrophic loss is immanent.

Ecological Footprint and Biocapacity

We have long been in ‘overshoot’: when our ecological footprint surpasses the earth’s capacity to sustain our population size and consumption rate. (see the Ecological Footprint Explorer) The consequence is collapse. “Collapse is the only realistic scenario” (Arthur Keller).

Can we Fix It?

No. This is hard to accept. There’s this popular myth that we can turn this around or fix it, like Bob the Builder in the children’s story who says “Can we fix it? Yes, we can!” For a response to that I refer to the comical Tui beer advertising here in New Zealand with the sarcastic punch line “Yeah right.”

For the last few decades climate conferences and agreements have detailed the measures that need to be taken to keep the global average temperature below a 2 degree Celsius increase over the pre-industrial levels. The longer we leave it the harder and more severe the action required. It is now impossible. Besides, there is enough warming inertia in the system that even if we ‘turned off the switch’ the planet would continue to warm for decades. Any emissions mitigation also takes decades to have effect (Samset, Fuglestvedt, Lund).

Is mitigation possible when governments are planning to produce about 50% more fossil fuels by 2030 than would be consistent with limiting warming to 2°C, and 120% more than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C (The Production Gap Report, 2019)?

Some call for political action. But that is clearly unrealistic. At the last international climate conference, the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, said “Global problems require global solutions”. But the nations on the globe just cannot agree and have no power against the oligarchs and polluters who do what they will.

Extrapolation and Cognitive Dissonance

One of the things that humans can be good at doing is extrapolating from information about the past and the present to predict the future. Then again there’s cognitive dissonance: not seeing the facts or acknowledging them to be facts, because they do not “fit” within our ‘world-view’. For example, I may believe the economic theory that perpetual growth and exploitation of resources is possible on a finite planet. I may smoke cigarettes knowing they are very harmful to my health. I may have beliefs that cannot accommodate some scientific facts, and these may be cherished religious beliefs. Or I may simply hope that things will turn out okay (maybe another religious delusion), despite the contrary indications. Ignorance is no longer an excuse, and cognitive dissonance is self-deception. Greta Thurnberg is right when she answers the question “are you an optimist or a pessimist?” She says, “Neither. I’m a realist”. That is what we need to be. Realists.

We need to understand that death is natural, like the seasons. We also need to accept that this is unnatural. We pulled the trigger of destruction. This is the last great extinction event and the first extermination event. But there is no point blaming anyone. We are in this together. We are all complicit.

As we speed down the road to collapse and dystopia, we first see the following:

  • More frequent and extreme weather-related catastrophes.
  • The failure of food crops and famine.

[The Elephant in the Room artwork is by Mark Bryan]

Lecture Series | Dr. Mark Brimblecombe

Next month (October 2020), I begin a lecture series, which will be one lecture every month (or two):

  1. The Emergence of Christianity and the Jesus Myth
  2. Breaking down two-thousand-years+ of Christian Theology
  3. The Atheist and Scientific Argument against Religion: Strengths and Weaknesses
  4. Early Taoist Philosophy – An alternative to Religion

The first (and the last) lecture is ready to go. This is a topic which I have researched over the last thirty years, and especially in the last few months. I owe much to the recent works of Biblical scholars such as Dr. Richard Carrier and Dr. Robert Price.

This is somewhat speculative and raises the question of whether there was an historical person called Jesus… the alleged founder of Christianity. Maybe, maybe not. Whichever is the case, Christianity emerges from a ‘soup’ of many different traditions and trajectories in the first century A.D. The dominant strain becomes the one which we are most familiar with, with the Jesus of the four Gospels (itself a very contradictory story), and the writings of St. Paul who knows virtually nothing of this story. In the last one hundred years we have discovered literature from other early Christian traditions, especially from the Gnostic Christians. This gives us a clearer picture of the ‘Celestial Christ’ myth and the reasons for the development of an ‘historical’ Jesus.

The Jesus Myth Lecture is here.

I hope that Christians will be interested to attend these lectures. If nothing else, it will provide an opportunity for their ‘defending the faith’ and testing out ‘Christian Apologetics’.

A post-Christian Reflection

I am an atheist and an ‘unbeliever’ having been a Christian, a bible scholar, and a theologian for most of my life. So, I am now an apostate. This may offend those who are ‘adherents of the faith’ because I’m saying that I’ve been seriously deluded for much of my life, and so by implication think that you are too if you’re a Christian. Many will respond by saying that it does not matter. I partly agree, because we’re all practical atheists anyway. Besides, people are free to believe or not believe what they want in this part of the world. And, who wants to live in the real world anyway? Well, for me it matters because I want to know what is real and true, and I believe that the world would be a better place to live in if people thought the same.

My journey ‘coming out’ has followed two routes: (1) the argument from atheism and science, and (2) studying the Bible. I agree with Isaac Asimov who wrote, “properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.”

1. The arguments made by atheists, which are based on reasoning, logic, and the discoveries of science. Some of the best resources on this are:

  • God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens (2008)
    Audio Book on YouTube, Part 1, Part 2.
  • Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide by Richard Dawkins (2019)
  • The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (10th edition, first published 2006)
  • Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Daniel C. Dennett (2006)
  • Why There is No God: Simple Responses to 20 Common Arguments for the Existence of God by Armin Navabi
  • Why I am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927). Recorded lecture.
  • The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever, selected and with introductions by Christopher Hitchens
  • Why I am Not a Christian by Richard Carrier (2011)
  • The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails edited by John W. Loftus (2010)

2. The Bible is the product of an evolving religious tradition from early Judaism to early Christianity. It is mostly mythological, and mostly unhistorical, i.e. mostly fictitious religious propaganda. Some of the best resources on this are:

  • Seeing Through Christianity: A Critique of Beliefs and Evidence by Bill Zuersher (2014)
    An excellent YouTube lecture here: https://youtu.be/_AdPoHDebjU
  • Dr Richard Carrier’s books and videos (see YouTube). https://www.richardcarrier.info/
  • The Christian Delusion; Why Faith Fails edited by John W. Loftus (2010) – Part 2: Why the Bible is not God’s Word / The Cosmology of the Bible / The Bible and Modern Scholarship / What We’ve Got Here is a Failure to Communicate (“the Bible debunks itself”).
  •  God: The Most Unpleasant Character in all Fiction by Dan Barker (2016)

Some may want to pray for me, though according to Hebrews 6:4-6 this would now be a waste of time. It is better that you think with me. I welcome the opportunity to discuss with you why I am not a Christian. Privately exploring the material listed above is a good place to start, especially if you’re afraid of being stigmatized for doing so.

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is the disconnect between what we think or believe is true and acting as if it were not. It can also be the other way around… acknowledging what is false and acting as if it were true. Either way ‘cognitive dissonance’ is the disconnect between beliefs and actions.

It is often easier for us to see it in others than in ourselves. We may deride them for being a hypocrite, for not practicing what they preach or not preaching what they practice. In doing so, we may well incriminate ourselves for being the same. Cognitive dissonance seems to be a universal dis-ease.

I think there may be many reasons for us being this way… security in a belief system, uncritically accepting what we are told, the lack of humility to accept that we may be wrong, an over-confidence in authority, a lack of trust in the sciences, ‘fake-news’ is more entertaining, or even “who gives a shit.” Speaking of which, it seems that the most significant times when cognitive dissonance is ‘healed’ is when ‘the shit hits the fan’ and we are forced to reconstruct our world-view to match reality.

We are living in such a time, and a super shit-storm is building (biosphere and civilization collapse). Now is the best time for us to scrutinise our beliefs AND our actions. The chances are high that one or both are ‘screwed’. One way to really live and find meaning in living is to overcome cognitive dissonance. For many that should mean… religion and beliefs in a god have to go. For many that should mean believing what science is telling us about the past, present, and future. For me, today on my birthday, it is accepting the reality that I’m not superman/supernatural, and never will be however much I would like to maintain cognitive dissonance and believe otherwise.

God: Love and Justice

According to the Bible, God is love. This looks like a ‘hand in glove’ trick, the hand (or fist) being the justice of God, and the glove being the love of God… and so disguising or ‘dressing up’ the so-called justice.

In the Old Testament, “love” is truly an alien word. In context, love for God almost always means cowering commitment, self-denial, and sacrifice, not a freely chosen joyful adoration… God requires his lovers to fear him, which turns adoration into a compulsive disorder. (Dan Barker, God: The Most Unpleasant Character in all Fiction, 2016)

According to the Bible, God commands us to love him. It is the same as in any abusive relationship… “you must love me”.  What about the notion that God is just? Well, it is more of the same. Here is a short list of God being ‘just’ (and presumably being love at the same time):

  • God punishes children for the ‘crimes’ of their parents. The parents worshiped the ‘wrong’ gods (e.g. Deuteronomy 5:8-9).
  • Babies and unborn fetuses are killed because their parents have rebelled against God (Hosea 13:16).
  • Babies are killed and wives raped to punish pride (Isaiah 13:11-16).
  • Sons and daughters (children), are sold off or killed off for offending God (e.g. Joel 3:8).
  • Children born of a ‘forbidden’ marriage are discriminated against (Deut. 23:2).
  • Egyptian children are killed because of the actions or in-actions of the Pharaoh (whose heart God hardened!).
  • King David is punished for his sin by God, by God arranging to have David’s wives raped by the neighbors (2 Samuel 12:11).
  • King David is forgiven his sin, but irrespective of that his next born child must die (2 Sam 12:13-14).
  • David’s wife criticizes him for exposing his genitals to other women, so God punishes the wife with barrenness, i.e. not being able to have children. (2 Samuel 6:20-23).
  • God punishes a whole nation with a three-year famine, because Saul slew Gibeonites (2 Sam 21:1). Saul hands over seven of his men to the Gibeonites to be hanged, which ends God’s famine punishment.
  • God deliberately makes bad laws (impossible to obey) to ‘scare the shit out of’ people, and so that they will “know that I am the Lord” (Ezekiel 20:25-26).
  • God indiscriminately kills both the righteous and the wicked (Ezekiel 21:3-5).
  • A person is killed for believing a lie, not the person who told the lie (1 Kings 13:18-24).
  • God deceives a prophet, then kills him for being deceived (Ezekiel 14:9).
  • God discriminates against the physically handicapped (Leviticus 21:16-23).
  • Everybody 21 years and older, is to be taxed the same amount (a half-shekel), both the poor and the rich (Exodus 30:14-15).
  • Cursing a parent is punishable by death (Exodus 21:17).
  • If a person has sex with an innocent animal, both the person and the beast are put to death (Leviticus 20:15-16).
  • Witches must be put to death for being witches (Exodus 22:18).
  • God causes environmental degradation and destruction (punishes the planet) because of people’s wickedness (several stories).
  • God drowns all living things and people on the planet, apart from the fish or course… one family of humans… and a boat-load of animals, because of the great wickedness of the human race and their evil thought-crimes (Genesis 6-7).
  • One ‘sin’ erases a lifetime of goodness (Ezekiel 33:12-13).
  • Nonbelievers, and believers in other gods, should be put to death (Exodus 22:20; 2 Chron. 15:13; Psalm 78). God is jealous of these other gods getting attention.
  • The property (including the wives) of nonbelievers are confiscated (Jeremiah 8:9-10).
  • God persecutes and kills people for not listening to him (Jeremiah 29:18-19).
  • God’s racism is a just reason for commanding divorce, and genocide! Genocidal rape is also okay.
  • You may charge a foreigner interest, but not a brother Israelite (Deut. 23).
  • If you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want, but you can’t take any home (Deut 23).
  • Slavery is okay, and sometimes commanded by God. It is not once in the Bible condemned or considered unjust. There are laws on how to treat slaves nicely. Sexual violence against female slaves is okay, by forcing them into marriage. But if they no longer bring you pleasure then you can ‘free’ them from slavery and send them away (Deuteronomy 21). Young virgins are a special prize (Numbers 31). Daughters can also be sold as slaves (Exodus 21:7).

Perhaps we could get a little more philosophical about God’s justice and consider the amicable conversation between God and Satan over Job’s loyalty. In order for God to prove his point, justly of course, he allowed his debating partner to basically destroy Job’s life and cause him a great deal of suffering. Anything to win a wager eh?

Finally I come to the Christian claim that Jesus is the incarnate God of the Old Testament. Need I say more, or just sing as I did in Sunday School, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tell me so.” Here is a ‘country’ rendition that might bring back indoctrination memories.

Racist Ideas and Religion

Racism is arguably one of the greatest evils on the planet. A much-cited example is the Nazi antisemitism that resulted in the atrocities at Auschwitz. Another is the long history of ethnic cleansing based on the belief that a god has chosen a particular ethnic group of Semites to be his chosen people, and has given to these people a land that should be ethnically cleansed (currently of Palestinians). Racism will always be worse when people believe in a racist and genocidal god. These beliefs, espoused by many Christians, Jews, and Muslims are intolerable.

Some of the best words spoken against racism, discrimination, and prejudice, come from the teachings of Jesus, especially the stories that include Samaritans, even Samaritan women. Though, ironically, even Jesus sadly lapsed into racist and derogatory comments about non-Jews (Canaanite people are ‘dogs’ and should not be helped). He was after all a victim of his own religious and ideological beliefs.  

Our best fight against racism is to expose and destroy the idea of racism, discrimination, and prejudice. Opposing the people we call racist is like putting the ‘cart before the horse’. The ‘cart’ goes nowhere if the horse that pulls it, racist beliefs and ideas, is dead.

It is imperative, in my opinion, that we deconstruct myths, stories, and religions which have for so long poisoned our minds and have legitimized bad behavior, especially killing people. A recent example is ‘The Great Replacement: Towards a New Society’ by Brenton Tarrant. He emailed a copy of this to the Prime Minister of New Zealand shortly before murdering 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch on 15 March 2019. His ‘manifesto’ gives his rationale for committing this atrocity, in a similar way that the Bible and the Quran provided the manifesto for Christians and Muslims to murder each other during the middle-ages. It was unfortunate that Tarrant’s ‘manifesto’ was censored and banned here in New Zealand, denying the public an exposé of his reasoning and beliefs. Here is a 5-minute summary of that 74-page document. By the way, the document itself is not dangerous, but the ideas in it are.

The best way to prevent future atrocities like this is to expose and condemn the thinking and reasoning that drives such atrocities. There is nothing disrespectful about that. Actually, it is disrespectful not to do that. Brendon Tarrant is behind bars, and may he always be so. But the killer’s ideas are still ‘on the loose’. They are found lurking in religious and ideological thinking. Some are not so discreet, shouting very loudly. We must put these ideas and beliefs on trial, call them out for what they are, and condemn them.

I understand the following children’s rhyme. It is of course literally and physically true. But it is also false.  

    Sticks and stones may break my bones
    But words will never hurt me.

Words and ideas can be very dangerous and hurtful. Whereas inert and mindless sticks and stones (or guns for that matter), NEVER hurt anyone.

Debunking Sacrifice

For as long as humans have been carnivores, animals have been killed and eaten by humans. Cooked meat has been a feature of festivities, cementing relationships and agreements between people, and used as offerings to impress people and gods. The belief that food offerings make gods happy, or calms them down when angry, seems to go back to the earliest religious rituals. It is within that context that the idea of ‘sacrifice’ emerges.

The biblical Noah sacrificed ‘clean animals and clean birds’ to his god after leaving the ark, thereby causing their extinction if the story is to be believed, as a token of thanksgiving. We are told that the smoke from the burning flesh was a pleasing aroma to God (Genesis 8:20-21). That is all relatively innocuous. But it soon becomes bloody awful, nocuous, and wrong.

What is ‘wrong’? We are all able to differentiate between right and wrong, just as we can between light and dark, and good and bad. In fact, you would never know one from the other unless both always existed. When it comes to right and wrong in moral and ethical terms, this is always about relationships. Not just people, but other life on the planet, and our relationship to the planet itself (the Bible sadly neglects this almost entirely). Understanding this requires no religion and no god. This is nature; this is natural (see my other blog posts on Taoism).

But this does not serve tyrants and political control freaks, and the gods fashioned after them. So it was found necessary, in order to maintain their authority, to invent laws to control people… or at least codify the common sense ones that always exists (e.g. killing people is harmful, stealing from people his harmful, etc). Right and wrong is then measured by abstract laws and abstract punishments. Wrongdoing becomes disobedience against a lawmaker, who demands retribution and punishment. Compensating the victim (if it happens at all), and seeking reconciliation between the offender and the victim take second place to an ‘offended’ ruler and lawmaker who is not the victim at all.

The story gets worse when wrongness becomes sin, when we bring in superstition and magic, when ‘sin’ becomes a noun (rather than a verb), some stuff, some ‘thing’, and is separated from the dynamic of relationships between people. Sin becomes easier to deal with when it is believed to be a thing. Now you can charge money for removing it by developing a professional priesthood, and build ‘cathedrals’ from the profit.

In an early form the business worked this way… Step 1: you take an innocent animal, a goat; Step 2: the sinner lays their hands on the goat; Step 3 (optional): a prayer or incantation is spoken; Step 4: there is a transfer of the ‘sin’ to the goat, by laying hands on it; Step 5: it is sent off into the wilderness to die there along with its new infection. Problem solved! ‘Out of sight and out of mind’. What happened to the ‘sin’. Perhaps it defiled the land where the animal perished. Anyway, this was the mystical mechanics (metaphysics) of purification from it.

So, the ancients turned the abstract concept ‘wrongdoing’ into a substantial thing: sin. This is the reification fallacy.

Reification is when an abstraction (abstract belief or hypothetical construct) is treated as if it were a concrete real event or physical entity. In other words, it is the error of treating something that is not concrete, such as an idea, as a concrete thing. (Wikipedia)

According to the Bible this sin stuff is physically transmitted from parent to child (through sex) so that every child born is contaminated. All of humanity is therefore infected.

Given that it is a contaminant, the best and most effective way to deal with it is some other thing that can cleanse it away… like a detergent with special properties and powers. This requires the same magic as reification, but in reverse (counter-magic). We must retrofit some thing so it has properties that it never had before. We make it holy by endowing it with unseen powers. A special incantation or ritual does the job, especially if performed by a qualified practitioner.

The magically retrofitted stuff from the animal or human sacrifice is blood, turned into a cleanser. My guess is that blood was chosen because it was symbolic of life. But so is ‘breath’ symbolic of life (Genesis 2:7). Anyway, blood it was. The working formula entailed sprinkling it on buildings, or furniture, or clothing, or people. More specifically sometimes, “on the lobe of their right ear, and on the thumb of their right hand and on the big toe of their right foot.” (Leviticus 8:24). It was a cleansing agent. It purified. Ironically, it putrefies or decomposes if not soon washed off. But let’s not get ‘modern’ and hygienic about it. This does however demonstrate that the magical and superstitious views about blood are pre-scientific, and almost certainly would not and could not develop in a modern non-religious world. Here are a few more ‘old time religion’ beliefs about blood, now shown to be pre-scientific and false:

  • that babies are conceived from the mixing of blood
  • that a woman’s menstrual blood is dirty and defiling
  • that bloodletting prevents or cures disease

Let’s return to animal blood. Rather than animals just being a convenient mode of transport for carrying away sin (the scapegoat), they were put to death because there is magical power in the blood itself. The animal becomes a blood sacrifice with not only the power to appease an angry and offended god, but to also magically cleanse or wash away sin with its blood.

Jesus was born into this cult. And I might add, was conceived without sex so he was sinless (uncontaminated), or so the story goes. He grows up within this religious and sacrificial system and apparently supported it. His contempt for some fauna and flora may be related e.g. cursing a fig tree not fruiting out of season, and sending a large herd of pigs to their death. Anyway, the whole Bible story is constructed around the idea that sacrifices worked, and that Jesus was the ‘lamb of God’ who removes the sins of the world. I would go further and say that the whole story was invented to magnify the myth, and that it is essentially a marketing campaign to give it supremacy over competing mythologies and religions. Whatever you think of the Bible (and my reading of it), if you are an adherent of Judaism, Islam, or Christianity then you believe in the efficacy (effectiveness) of blood sacrifices, even or especially a human sacrifice. I mean real sacrifices, not ‘symbolic’ ones. There is no disclaimer like in the movies… “No animals or people were tortured or killed in the making of this movie.” Millions of animals (including humans) have been killed, and still are today, because it is believed that there is “power, power, wonder-working power in the blood.” You can sing along here if nausea and vomiting doesn’t overwhelm you. I find this abhorrent and disgusting. It is morally, spiritually, and intellectually reprehensible in the modern scientific world. I confess to you, with remorse, that I have ‘been there’ myself. This is my absolution.

On being Offended

Some people say they are offended by what I have to say. I think I know why, and I reflect with a good deal of embarrassment that I too for much of my life would have been offended by what I am saying now. But I now have some courage, and have perhaps developed an ounce of reason, to think outside the box that I have lived in for most of my life, and to think and question what I have been told to believe.  This has led me to many awe-inspiring discoveries, mainly through science, history, and early Taoist philosophy… all of which is largely nonsense, even blaspheme, to those poisoned by religion.  

Offended people, besides just feeling that way, sometime react and miss the point entirely by attacking the person rather than their argument. This is always arrogant, bigoted, and narrow-minded. It is most unfortunate that ‘being offended’ has become an accepted feeling for not thinking, especially under the disguise of being tolerant and accusing others of being intolerant. But I am perhaps most disappointed by the Christian notion that thinking itself is always wrong (vs faith). So, the rug is pulled out from under the feet of reasoning, because all humans are flawed (born sinners) and incapable of reasoning (and doing good). The Psalmist put it best, “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good” (Psalm 14:1). I’m not offended by this accusation. It’s just irrational anti-empirical nonsense, and perhaps the worst example of the ad hominen fallacy… so atheists are allegedly wrong because they are humans, not mere fools.

A YouTube compilation ‘On Being Offended