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Note: It is not my intent in this diary to be alarmist. Being an alarmist and acknowledging conditions that are alarming are quite different things.

In a recent diary I posited that the human race could become extinct within a hundred years or less. Predictably a number of readers rejected that notion in what I would characterize as knee-jerk reactions. None of them offered any argument beyond no. Apparently they just didn't like the idea. No matter that it came from a world renowned scientist. That it came from a prominent scientist doesn't make it irrefutably true but it's a much better argument than 'umm no' or 'my ass.' It can be very difficult to get people to think outside of the ruts they've grown accustomed to, and the similarities between humans and ostriches have been often noted.

Of course I don't know when or if the human race will go extinct and neither does anyone else. That doesn't mean we shouldn't consider the possibility...especially when so many authoritative voices are warning us that disturbing signs of it abound.

By 2050, the world will host nine billion people—and that's if population growth slows in much of the developing world. Today, at least one billion people are chronically malnourished or starving. Simply to maintain that sad state of affairs would require the clearing (read: deforestation) of 900 million additional hectares of land, according to Pedro Sanchez, director of the Tropical Agriculture and Rural Environment Program at The Earth Institute at Columbia University.

The bad news beyond the impacts on people, plants and animals of that kind of deforestation: There isn't that much land available. At most, we might be able to add 100 million hectares to the 4.3 billion already under cultivation worldwide.

"Agriculture is the main driver of most ecological problems on the planet," said economist Jeffrey Sachs, Scientific American columnist and Earth Institute director. "We are literally eating away the other species on the planet."

Another Inconvenient Truth: The World's Growing Population Poses a Malthusian Dilemma

And even before the apocalypse in the Gulf, we were busily murdering our oceans.

More bad news for the world's oceans: Dead zones—areas of bottom waters too oxygen depleted to support most ocean life—are spreading, dotting nearly the entire east and south coasts of the U.S. as well as several west coast river outlets.
According to a new study in Science, the rest of the world fares no better—there are now 405 identified dead zones worldwide, up from 49 in the 1960s—and the world's largest dead zone remains the Baltic Sea, whose bottom waters now lack oxygen year-round.

Oceanic Dead Zones Continue to Spread

And there are those, like me, who think that 100 years to extinction is generous (that is if we don't take bold actions to prevent it IMHO).

Earth's population will be forced to colonise two planets within 50 years if natural resources continue to be exploited at the current rate, according to a report out this week.

A study by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), to be released on Tuesday, warns that the human race is plundering the planet at a pace that outstrips its capacity to support life.

In a damning condemnation of Western society's high consumption levels, it adds that the extra planets (the equivalent size of Earth) will be required by the year 2050 as existing resources are exhausted.

The report, based on scientific data from across the world, reveals that more than a third of the natural world has been destroyed by humans over the past three decades.

Earth 'will expire by 2050'

Few people appreciate just how complex and fragile are the eco-sphere and the chemistry that supports life.

And the larger point of course is that weather systems are like that – they are very nonlinear.  Pumping x more tons of CO2 into the atmosphere will not necessarily have smooth, predictable effects.  Someone once put it like this:  if you take one rivet out of an airliner, nothing is going to happen. But if you keep removing them, at some point you will have a sudden catastrophic failure – the airplane will crash.  If you pump a little carbon dioxide into the air, nothing happens, but at a certain point, the ice caps tumble into the sea, or the jet stream flips direction, or – who knows?  Something crashes.

The result is that we're in a much, much more precarious situation than most people, with their linear intuitions, realize. Spontaneous global eco-collapse is a distinct, though probably remote, scientific possibility. Spontaneous much-bigger-than-anyone-expected eco-disruption is not only a possibility but perhaps frighteningly likely.  Global eco-collapse is one of my (slightly tongue-in-cheek) "Seven Paths to Apocalypse" – but this is no joke.

Apocalypse: eco-collapse

Or as I said in a previous diary:

We know so much less about these matters than we like to think that we should at least be cautious in our assumptions.  Global Warming science keeps showing how much we have underestimated the consequences of the damage we’ve done to the environment so far.  And nobody knows when, how or if we might trigger a deadly feedback loop...but it’s a distinct possibility.  We should be tiptoeing cautiously not rampaging like elephants.  The destruction of the biosphere has to be allowed for as a possibility, and that possibility, along with science and reason should drive our policy...irrespective of any other consideration - including financial - most especially financial.  Science, reason and responsibility are non-negotiable going forward.  They have to be.

DK GreenRoots:  Mother Earth

So stick your head in the sand if you must, but that is only a feel good measure. It won't change a damned thing.

When discussing anthropogenic destruction of the earth, the Gaia theory is often invoked. As that argument goes, the earth is an enormous self-healing and self-correcting entity. She is great and we are small and nothing short of nuclear conflagration (which should not be ruled out BTW) will ever render her unfit for human habitation. Not even James Lovelock, inventor of the Gaia theory, believes that any more.

The esteemed - if controversial - environmentalist and futurologist (he prefers to be called a planetary physician) also believes that by the middle of this century, the America-sized chunk of floating ice that currently covers the Arctic will melt. As a result, the current habitat of polar bears will eventually be the place where we, or our probably very fed-up descendants, live out their pitiful existences. "Most life will move up to the Arctic basin because only it and a few islands will remain habitable," says Lovelock, who is most famous for coming up with the so-called Gaia hypothesis - the idea that the Earth functions as some kind of living super-organism.

Lovelock is now seriously concerned about said super-organism. Humanity's vast output of carbon dioxide over the past two centuries has prompted the deserts to spread towards the poles at an alarming rate, he says. "The Sahara is heading north. So where's the food going to come from? Not from the European mainland. Even here things are changing: there are in Britain now scorpions and snails hitherto only seen in the Mediterranean. Recently I saw hawk moths. Something terrible is happening." On the plus side, hawk moths are very pretty, I suggest. "That's not really the point," says Lovelock.

'We should be scared stiff'

As regards extinction, there is an argument (a somewhat plausible one I think) that no matter what, remnants of humanity will survive at a more-or-less stone-age level, but that scenario is only marginally less catastrophic IMO, and does not change in any degree what we should be doing to improve our chances.

When it comes to doing something bold and meaningful about our dire circumstances, many have embraced the concept of incremental change only. IMHO that is only because they have been conditioned through a systematic program of propaganda and brainwashing to accept that change can only happen in tiny baby steps. Our system was intentionally designed to prevent big or rapid change because those who designed it had things pretty much the way they wanted them. This 'incremental change only' system assures that greedy rich white men will always get what they want. To accept incrementalism is to accept the status quo. "Incrementalism is all there is," said one otherwise bright kossack in a diary last night. That is the strength of propaganda and cultural conditioning. Systems that are designed can be redesigned. Real change can happen, all it takes is the will to make it - and my position is that we don't have any choice in the matter.

"It's dangerous to keep doing what we're doing."

President Barack Obama

Some see things as they are and say ‘can’t we make things just a tiny bit better.’ Some see things as they are and say ‘a tiny bit ain’t gonna get it.’ I’m amongst the latter, and that’s always pretty much been my POV, but more and more so as time goes by. It’s not like we aren’t running out of time. It’s not like the polar ice caps aren’t melting.

polar-icecaps-melting

One of my kossack friends questioned if I meant to disparage all of the incremental change people have fought so hard for, and the answer is of course no. I don't mean to throw out the baby with the bathwater. But it's not like things have gotten steadily better in all areas of American life. In some areas perhaps but not all. In fact in can be argued that we've been sliding backwards in many of the most important areas. With the USA Patriot Act, FISA, blatant governmental support for not prosecuting high crimes at the highest levels of society, the exporting of American industry and jobs, the rewarding of criminal malfeasance in the financial industry, the prosecution of unpopular and unjust wars and all the other infringements on our rights that we are worse off than ever.

Is there a special word for "incrementalism" when

...it moves us in the wrong direction?
Other than "stupidity"?

by rfall on Mon Jul 05, 2010

yah

Excrementalism

by wilderness voice on Mon Jul 05, 2010

from yesterday's Top Comments

h/t to Dreaming of Better Days for the following:

Battered and bruised, with no apparent way out, the American electorate has plunged into a political state of learned helplessness. They've voted Democratic to punish rapacious Republicans. They've voted Republican to get rid of do-nothing Democrats. They've tried staying home on Election Day. Nothing they do helps their condition. They're flailing.

The great mass of Americans works longer hours for less pay. Until, inevitably, they get "laid off." Is there a working- or middle-class American who hasn't lost his job or been close to someone who got fired during the last few years? Even in 2009, when global capitalism entered its final crisis and millions of Americans were losing their homes to the same banks their taxes were paying to bail out, the world's richest people--those with disposable wealth over $30 million--saw their assets soar by 21.5 percent.

Go ahead, little leftie: smash the windows at Starbucks in Seattle. It won't stop transnational corporations from raping the planet and exploiting you. Enjoy your Tea Party, little rightie. It sure is cute, listening to you talk about the wee Constitution. "Your" government and the companies that own "your" leaders have your number.

In Dire Straits, Americans Whimper Instead

They have our numbers. And as long as we continue sucking up to politicians, sending them our money and excusing their betrayals nothing will change.

Now a far as my solutions go: I'm just a cranky old hippie with a keyboard, a jailhouse philosopher with a good eye for crazy bullshit. I'm no policy wonk. I can't say with any authority what is the best way to redistribute the wealth, shift our society to non-polluting renewable energy, control population growth, rid our government of corruption, malfeasance and incompetence, etc. – only that these things all need to be done. I'm no Cassiodorus who can tell you exactly what we need to replace our hopelessly messed-up economic system with – only that it needs to be replaced. And I can't tell you precisely how to save our asses – only that they need to be saved.

We ignore reality at our peril. In the mean time, Nero fiddles.

Nero-fiddles-Peace-Out

Originally posted to One Pissed Off Liberal on Tue Jul 06, 2010 at 10:46 AM PDT.

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