Why mitigation will never stabilize the climate

I have previously shown that it is too late to mitigate, by at least fifty years (see my earlier blog post of 18 January 2021). Central to that argument are the facts of self-reinforcing feedback loops, tipping points, and the realization that temperature increases from higher concentrations of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere have now led to greater amounts of GHGs being emitted from the planet itself rather than just from human activity.

But now it must be shown that the mitigation of human GHGs emissions can NEVER stabilize, let alone reduce, the greenhouse gas effect. I return to the ‘blanket’ analogy, since this is a helpful way of explaining how greenhouse gases trap heat from escaping into space, thus warming the planet. It is like adding a blanket on a bed that you are sleeping in. As said before, there is a delayed response to the warming effect by adding ‘blankets’. It is not instant… about 10 – 20 years for the planet by adding CO2 into the atmosphere.[1]

Mitigation of human generated GHGs is possible, but we have no control over ‘natural’ GHGs emitted from the planet. But that is not the major problem here. It is that over the last few hundred years there has been a massive accumulation of GHGs in the atmosphere. Every year for the last fifty years or more, humans have added tens of billions of tonnes of CO2e annually. The amount back in 1990 was about 35 billion tonnes annually. Now it is more than 50 billion tonnes annually and showing no signs of becoming less despite political ambitions. In other words, we have been adding larger ‘blankets’ every year. Mitigation of human GHGs means adding smaller ‘blankets’, NOT the removal of blankets. So, here then is another reason why mitigation is futile.

The only solution to return the planet to a stable Holocene climate is to remove from the atmosphere the massive excess of GHGs that have accumulated there, both from human activity and now also the excess from nature itself due to the carbon cycle having been thrown out of equilibrium.

The scale of the challenge for carbon removal using technologies like Direct Air Capture is almost too large to comprehend. Just keeping pace with 1990 global CO2 emissions, 36 gigatonnes per year, would mean building about 30,000 large-scale DAC plants, more than three for every coal-fired power station. Each plant would cost up to US$500m to build – coming in at a cost of about US$15 trillion.[2]

The removal of the excess GHG ‘blankets’ is practically impossible. We have neither the technology at scale, nor the political will and consensus globally, nor the enormous amount of money to invest doing this![3] We also don’t have the energy resources to use for doing this either.

Then there is the problem of thermal inertia. Warming oceans and lands now contribute to atmospheric warming. The warming oceans are a capacitor of heat, ensuring continued warming for centuries, especially with the disappearance of Arctic sea ice. This is an obstacle to any mitigation effort, and to the effects of removing the accumulated GHGs (if that were possible).[4]

So, where does this leave us? Firstly, it reiterates the observation that it is too late to mitigate, and that mitigation (by reducing emissions) is totally futile. Secondly, the only solution may be the currently impossible task of removing massive quantities of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Thirdly, this also is likely to be ineffective against the growing thermal inertia in the system with warming oceans. Besides that, the ever-increasing GHGs being emitted from a warming planet cannot be mitigated other than by cooling the planet.

There are many accelerating and irreversible processes currently in motion. These include self-reinforcing feedback loops and the crossing of tipping points. If you extrapolate from the known facts and the known trajectories of change, you can only arrive at one conclusion. It is not a happy outcome for life on the planet. But the planet itself will survive, at least for another five billion years until consumed by the expanding sun.

We need to adapt to the changing conditions to mitigate suffering, at least until it is also too late to do that.

Addendum: A Brief Response to Professor James Renwick’s recent comments.

James Renwick is a Professor of Physical Geography at Victoria University, New Zealand. He is one of the seven commissioners on the recently formed government Climate Change Commission tasked with implementing ‘The Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019’. He has recently been quoted as saying[5]

The latest science paints a stark picture, but also points out that it is not too late. I think it is very important to take this on board because if we think it’s too late then we’ll be less motivated to take the action required.

Yes, there are feedbacks in the climate system that add to the effect humanity is having. However, the best science I am aware of says that those feedbacks do not operate autonomously and will not continue of their own accord IF we cease emitting carbon dioxide.

Some things are indeed irreversible, such as a certain amount of sea level rise. The climate is already changed from last century and will stay changed for centuries into the future. However, we can still avoid catastrophic change by reducing emissions urgently.   It is still the case that getting to ZERO GLOBAL EMISSIONS of CO2 by 2050 would stop warming at not much over 1.5 degrees. When we stop emitting, we stop the warming within a few years. There is no long-term feedback that would over-ride this.

In my opinion, the professor needs to become a confessor. One must assume that he knows the science, and that the facts of science reported in many peer reviewed science papers are incongruent with the popular myth of ‘net zero’ and effective mitigation. One must then assume deliberate obscuration so as not to impede the attempts to mitigate, the charter for his current work for the New Zealand government and the Climate Change Commission.

His comments about feedback loops are clearly erroneous. A simple Wikipedia search will show this.[6] In plain English they are defined as ‘self-reinforcing’ and ‘self-accelerating’. The irreversible nature of tipping points is not discussed, other than his comments on sea-level rise. Contrary to Renwick, the science indicates that it is too late to mitigate!

Further Reading

‘Climate scientists: concept of net zero is a dangerous trap’ by James Dyke, Robert Watson, and Wolfgang Knorr, The Conversation, 22 April 2021, https://theconversation.com/climate-scientists-concept-of-net-zero-is-a-dangerous-trap-157368

[1] 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 Also ‘Maximum warming occurs about one decade after a carbon dioxide emission’ by Katharine Ricke and Ken Caldeira, Environmental Research Letters, Vol 9 No 12, 2 December 2014 https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/9/12/124002

[2] David Roberts, ‘Sucking carbon out of the air won’t solve climate change, but it might fill in a few key pieces of the clean energy puzzle’ Vox, 16 July 2018, https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2018/6/14/17445622/direct-air-capture-air-to-fuels-carbon-dioxide-engineering ; ‘The Direct-Air Capture Debate’ Anthropocene Magazine, 25 March 2021, https://www.anthropocenemagazine.org/2021/03/the-direct-air-capture-debate/  ; ‘Emergency deployment of direct air capture as a response to the climate crises’ by Ryan Hanna, Ahmed Abdulla, Yangyang Xu and David G. Victor, Nature Communications volume 12, Article number: 368 (2021) https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-20437-0

[3] Also, there is virtually no profit to be made by sequestration by this method… burying the carbon back into the ground. It may however be possible to convert this carbon into synthetic fuels by using a massive amount of energy. Perhaps New Zealand, being a 0.17% contributor to the problem, could do this with its large amount of electricity generated by hydro and geothermal electricity production.  

[4] Claudia Tebaldi and Pierre Friedlingstein ‘Delayed detection of climate mitigation benefits due to climate inertia and variability’ PNAS October 22, 2013 110 (43) 17229-17234; https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1300005110

[5] From email correspondence with Lorna Sutherland read at the hearing of submissions on the Whanganui District Council Climate Change Strategy, 20 April 2021.

[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.

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)

‘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

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)


[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]

The Context of Collapse

Back in the 1970s, Carl Sagan popularized the ‘Cosmic Calendar’ method for showing the history of the universe by condensing the fourteen billion years this universe has existed for until now into one year. The clock starts ticking on the first day of January. Sometime in September our solar system is formed around one star, one out of one billion trillion stars in the observable universe. In December life begins to evolve on this ‘speck of dust’ planet. On the last day at about 8pm various species of humans evolve, and for a moment three of those human species co-exist. By the last second (about four seconds after the first Christmas ironically), 99.9% of all the species that have ever existed have gone extinct.

When it comes to size and space, this becomes virtually inconceivable. Those one billion trillion stars take up a massive amount of space, but only about 0.0000000000000000000042 percent of space! We are not ‘centre stage’ either, as Galileo ‘the heretic’ demonstrated with his telescope.

Things come into existence and things disappear. Stars are ‘born’, and stars ‘die’ (one every second). Our little sun has about 7 – 8 billion years to go. But billions of years before then it will start growing and incinerate this planet. But we’re not going to die because of that… oh no… on the current trajectory of biosphere collapse and climate change (human caused and un-natural), all life on this planet will have vanished by the end of this century, possibly in my lifetime, or in that of my children’s. My grandchildren will not die of old age. My great-grandchildren will never exist.

If you disagree with this story, or you are offended by it, it is most likely because of one or both of the following:

  1. Ignorance of science and history, or you have a large amount of cognitive dissonance towards it.
  2. You believe an entirely different narrative of the beginning, what has been going on, and the ‘hereafter’ ad nauseum. In a word, religion.

But for a moment consider some facts about the present state of the planet and life on it.

  1. It is warming, and faster than at any other time in history. We are ‘cooking to death’.
  2. The habitat that all species depend upon for survival is disappearing at a rate faster than at any other time in history (including previous mass extinction events, with perhaps the exception of one). This is mostly due to the first point, and the next.
  3. The human population has in the last half-century increased beyond what is sustainable on this planet with its finite resources. We consume more and trash more, despite ‘green’ sustainability initiatives. Our biggest problem is ourselves. This is a ‘super-wicked’ problem.
  4. Recovery or restoration is no longer possible. The point-of-no-return, the tipping-point, has been passed and the ‘plunge over the precipice’ accelerates.

Doom and gloom? Yes and no.  It was always going to be this way on the third rock from the sun. But we never thought, until recently, how soon and inconvenient it could be.  

  1. It is natural. This coming into existence and going out of existence, like the cycle of seasons, has happened before and will surely happen again. Cosmologists say that it is true of the universe itself… expanding, cooling, ‘dying’, then collapsing and starting all over again. That is the ‘hereafter’. Enjoy the ride.
  2. We’re also doomed because of un-natural tampering with nature. Despite being called ‘homo sapiens’ humans are selfish,  foolish, incompetent, even malevolent.  If there is a ‘supernatural’ being who is also responsible for this in any way, as many believe, they must be even more so.

Acknowledging this relieves me of the delusions of hope and immortality. There is life and death, light and darkness. Both ‘opposites’ are always present and necessary to each other which is why I am a naturalist, a realist, a Taoist… and loving it, or at least what remains of ‘it’.

 ‘The Cosmic Calendar’ is from http://www.cosmiccalendar.net/