Straight up doom, no chaser

Wrote a comment on “Club Orlov”. If he doesn’t publish it, I’ve dumped it here, at least.

“His reasoning, as far as I have been able to piece it together, rests on a supposition of time-invariance: the planet will be warmer than it has ever been in human experience; therefore, no humans will survive. This is far short of a proof.”

You’re right! Although I don’t believe his arguments “rest” on that statement… I think he says this mainly to impress upon people that we are in uncharted territory, and that assumptions that the future will be anything similar to the past are on thin ice, as it were.

“…large groups of people, who could theoretically have a choice in the matter.”
Dmitry, this is where your vision would seem to diverge conceptually from that of someone like McPherson. He (and others) are saying that it is too late: that there is nothing—no change of human attitude or human habit—that can mitigate, much less reverse, the geophysical and biological trends already set into motion, perhaps longer ago than we might assume. If we ever had such a capacity for restraint or “choice” (an assumption that you yourself should be ready to prove), we certainly don’t have a choice at this late date. These are two separate propositions that, in order to be precise, should not be conflated.

Guy doesn’t even get into the things I personally observe in nature: the 9’x9′ lilac bush, the clover, dandelions and rhododendron with no insects around them of any kind, much less bees; the absence of spiders in my house, and of flies; the absence of little critters under rocks; the lack of decomposition of vegetable scraps in my garden beds; the brittle dryness of the forest land near me. I attended a talk last year by Elaine Ingham, a microbiologist who studies the soil life responsible for plants’ uptake of nutrients. She promotes brewing compost teas to cultivate concentrations of microbes that one might add to deficient or outright dead soils. To get a healthy sample of organisms to “inoculate” one’s compost, she recommended taking a sample from “a healthy forest”. Asked where such a forest might be, she said that, in Europe at least, “there are none”.  Following the logging trucks on the road, I notice consistently that each cross-section has a dark inner circle: the wood is not healthy and clear. There are other senses one can use to suss out what is going on: the woods no longer smell like woods, the ocean (I was just in Maine) no longer smells like the seashore to me. My husband agrees, so it’s not just me (he used to identify good mushroom spots by smell.) We can no longer smell the decay and respiration of biological processes because many if not most have been drastically diminished, in my opinion.

We’ve been focusing on cute animals going extinct, like polar bears, and many people are preoccupied with human extinction as well. Instead, I am wondering about the extinction of species we can’t see and of which we haven’t even identified the existence, but which may well be critical for the survival of plants (and therefore humans).

Guy’s argument, when it comes down to it, is all about the plants, but he does do a poor job of explaining that most-critical aspect, imo. Warming is happening at a rate many thousands of times faster than in previous climate shifts, and this rapidity will disallow meaningful adaptation by organisms (in particular non-locomotory organisms such as trees) not just to rising temperatures, but to *erratic* temperatures (frost one day, 35°C the next), and to changes in daylight hours even should offspring find new ground. Many plants useful for food need certain amounts of cold, as well as warmth, in order to germinate seed. Swift change means complete breakdown and loss of biological patterns which were once coherent, having developed as a painstaking response to conditions and in concert with support organisms which are no longer there.

I observe that engineers don’t seem to have as dire an outlook as do biologists. I also observe that people have a very hard time contemplating situations in which they do not have agency. I see this as a defect in reasoning, but most likely it has been useful, evolutionarily speaking. To imply people do not have agency can be perceived as personally insulting to them and it certainly makes people feel bad, so the rejection of that message along with the messenger is unsurprising.

I’m agnostic about the polls. All polls leave something to be desired in the questioning. I’m sorry your poll was aborted, but I think it, too, is problematic for the reason mentioned by Professor Diabolical. I’m stymied as to how I might answer the questions, because I don’t know what you mean by the word “comfortable”. Do you mean “are you capable of contemplating this notion without hysteria, knee-jerk denial, or other psychological resistance?” or do you mean “are you made comfortable by the notion or do you have a positive view of it”? To me, “comfortable *with*” could have either connotation. I envision some salesperson at a conference table negotiation: “Are you comfortable with that delivery schedule?” “yeah, I’m comfortable with that..”

@Jürgen Botz,
Whether there is a chance of nuclear war or not, when the modern electrical grid can no longer be maintained (this will happen with 100% certainty) we will have to contend with 400+ power plants in addition to other nuclear facilities the world over going almost completely unattended. We won’t even have the capacity for the brilliant TEPCO solution of storing radioactive material in casks now and then dumping it into the ocean later. In the nearer term, many will be (some already are) affected by anomalies in cooling-water temperature, with storage and weapons facilities already rusting away well beyond their projected life-spans. Sea-level rise is probably the last to worry about among these three major contributing factors (I was going to say “risks” but they are certainties) to the spectacular failure of those facilities.


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This entry was posted on May 27, 2015 by .


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