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Wed

21

Nov

2007

A Darwinian Rapture
Wednesday, 21 November 2007 14:27
by Stephen P. Pizzo

Throughout my life I've been either burdened or blessed — you choose — by a keen awareness that mankind lives on a razors' edge. My first recollection of this was in 1962 after I got my first drivers license. I was at my neighborhood gas station fuel up my first car, a green, four-door 1951 Chevy. Gas was 24 cents a gallon.

As I fueled my trusty old "Pickle Wagon," (as my mortified girlfriends used to call the beast.) I watched other motorists fueling their Detroit steeds, and it just popped into my heads. I can still hear the bells dinging and dinging as six cars filled up. (Pumps had bells in those days that dinged at ten cent intervals.)
"Well, this sure can't last forever."
Even as hormonally poisoned teenage boy with his first set of wheels, I had enough sense to know that cars, trucks, trains and planes running on finite million-year old fossilized trash from the earths' previous incarnations was not a sustainable model.
That was 45-years ago — a long time by human standards, but less than milli-second on Mother Earths' watch. While my 1962 moment did not come with a time frame, it appears that "can't last forever" meant roughly 50 years.

Back then the term, "environment," meant where you were at any point in time. The new shopping malls, for example, were a "shopping environment." With the exception of a small handful of environmental pioneers, like Rachel Carson, the idea human activity — short of all-out nuclear war — could threaten the earth's life-support systems, was an awareness yet to mature.

I clearly remember the first time I even saw the term, "Environmentalist." It was a couple of years after my gas station revelation. It was scrawled on a small sign in the window of dingy second-story office on Canary Row in Monterey. I recall turning to a friend and pointing to it. "What's that," I wisecracked. "some new religion?"

It would be years more before I "got it," and came to understand that there really is no free lunch, not in business and not among creatures great and small. And that someday a million years from now my bones might be being pumped out of the ground, refined and poured into some future 16-year olds ride.

Or, not.

The other possibility is that my bones will lay undisturbed until the earth is swallowed by the our expanding sun 5 billion years from now, my CO2 safely sequestered to the very end — because there would be no humans left to refine me into some manner of fuel.

Those who know me well know I am a veritable connoisseur of catastrophe. I am a professional pessimist — which I firmly believe is a healthier way to live than being an optimist. Think about it. Optimists spend a goodly portion of thier lives being disappointed when things come up tails when they were sure they were going to be heads. Ah, but we pessimists are far better off, because part of our lives are spent being ready when shit hits the fan and the rest of our lives pleasantly surprised when it doesn't.

I can imagine the worst possible outcome for any given set of circumstances you can cook up. That's just the way I process data. But, it is data I am processing. When I come up with a hand-wringing scenario I can defend it with data.

Here's the kind of data that keeps me up at night lately:
- The world population increased from 3 billion in 1959 to 6 billion by 1999, a doubling that occurred over 40 years. The world population is projected to grow from 6 billion in 1999 to 9 billion over the next 30 years.

- It takes an average of 25 gallons of water to produce one pound of wheat. It takes 5,214 gallons of fresh water to produce one pound of beef. (Ummmmmmm steakkkkkk)

- It would take six Earths to provide the resources required to support every person on earth today if they lived and consumed like the average US citizen.

- Today over 800 million people - one sixth of the developing world's population - suffers from hunger and the fear of starvation.

- Global warming will add at least another 250 million to that number, mostly in Africa.

- Rapid population growth not only pushes up demand for food but may also be starting to diminish supply as well. As people try to obtain higher yields from heavily used natural resources, soil loss worsens, fresh water becomes scarcer, and pollution increases. As a result the developing world's capacity to expand food production may well be shrinking, not expanding. (More)

- Climate change is set to do far worse damage to global food production than even the gloomiest of previous forecasts, according to studies presented at the Royal Society in London, UK, on Tuesday. “We need to seriously re-examine our predictions of future global food production,” said Steve Long, a crop scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, US. Output is “likely to be far lower than previously estimated”. (More)

- For the first time, the grain harvest has fallen short of consumption four years in a row. In 2000, the shortfall was a modest 16 million tons; in 2001 it was 27 million tons; and in 2002 a record-smashing 96 million tons. In its September 11 crop report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that this year's shrunken harvest of only 1,818 million tons is falling short of estimated consumption of 1,911 million tons by a near-record 93 million tons. (More)

- The grain required to fill a 25-gallon SUV gas tank with ethanol, for instance, could feed one person for a year. If today's entire U.S. grain harvest were converted into fuel for cars, it would still satisfy less than one-sixth of U.S. demand. (More)

- The recent rise in corn prices — almost 70 percent in the past six months — caused by the increased demand for ethanol biofuel has come much sooner than many agriculture economists had expected. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, this year the country is going to use 18 to 20 percent of its total corn crop for the production of ethanol, and by next year that will jump to 25 percent. — The situation will only get worse, says David Pimentel, a professor in the department of entomology at Cornell University. "We have over a hundred different ethanol plants under construction now, so the situation is going to get desperate," he says. Adding to the worries about corn-related food prices is President Bush's ambitious goal, announced in his last State of the Union address, that the United States will produce 35 billion gallons of ethanol by 2017. (More)

And for those who like their looming disasters displayed in pictures:











(See also maps showing the areas of the America that will be affected by rising sea levels)

Ugly pictures, huh? Nevertheless there are plenty of folk around more than willing to dismiss them as so much fear-mongering. Every time I write a piece like this my email box gets spammed by rightwing deadenders who, like holocaust deniers, tell me I'm full of it, that no such crisis' exist, and that I'm just another left-wing-one-world-government-pinko who — of course — "hates America."

They want to believe it just ain't so — so that's what they believe.

It's all about the data. Listen to the damn data. When my two boys reached an age to be taught how to handle money I used to tell them this.

When buying, selling, investing or entrepreneur-ing - NEVER listen to your heart, because it will almost always tell you what you want to hear. And never trust your brain either, because it's no match for your hearts' desires.

Then I'd hand them a pocket calculator. "This is the only thing that won lie to you," I'd tell them. "It doesn't care what you want. It doesn't even care what you need. Sometimes it will tell you what you want to hear, and sometimes it won't. What it will never do is lie to you — unless you lie to it first."

That's why I tune out the political/social/business/religious chatter about all this and look only at the data. And the overwhelming weight of that data tells me I was right back in 1962 — it can't last for ever. It never could. And now we're face to face with that moment of truth.

I would wager that, if you waterboarded them, even the most cockeyed, biblically lobotomized, American Enterprise Institute, US Chamber of Commerce types would admit that there's no way on earth — literally — that the world's remaining resouces could feed, cloth and energize 9 billion humans, without turning the Earth into a smoking cinder. And that was before adding in the affects global warming will have on our ability to produce and transport food and energy around the globe. It just ain't gonna happen.

Meanwhile the bus we're all traveling on is heading full tilt towards that sold wall of mathmatical reality: Too many people, consuming finite resources at an excellerating rate while also producing toxic wastes faster than nature can neutralize them — at least not in ways that aren't equally toxic to human existence.

It's also obvious that the folks we have piloting our communal bus are, at best, in denial, and at worst in cahots the those with vested interests in staying the course. They'll tell you that there's plenty of oil, food and water. That it's more important to keep the world's artificial economic systems greased and humming along than worrying about critters, like owls and fish. (BTW, such folk don't consider themselves critters.) They're solutions center around economic "growth" — more trade, more commerce, more travel, more drilling, more mining, more, more, more.

Of course that can't happen, and it won't. Mother Nature will simply clean house as She has so many times before whenever the Earth's systems got out of whack for one reason or another. And She doesn't give a fig what Dick Cheney or the American Enterprise Institute freemarketeers think, claim or want.

And, unless someone pulls the emergency stop cord, and soon, Mother Nature will make sure Dick Cheney and George Bush's kids and grandkids — along with ours — get front row seats to the Darwinian version of The Rapture.


From the United Nations Climate Change Commission Report

Action, not business as usual

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, if no action is taken on greenhouse gases, the Earth’s temperature could rise by 4.50°C (8.1°F) or more. The effects of climate change are being felt already, according to the Panel. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the global average and adverse effects on human activities are documented. Impacts of warming have also been observed in other regions and sectors, in particular on ecosystems. As glaciers retreat, water supplies are being put at risk. And for populations living in dry lands, especially those in Africa, changing weather patterns threaten to exacerbate desertification, drought and food insecurity. Other regions are expected to suffer from floods, sea level rise and extreme weather events.

"We cannot go on this way for long," Mr. Ban said, addressing a recent session of the UN General Assembly. "We cannot continue with business as usual. The time has come for decisive action on a global scale."
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