Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

Get Off the Grid! Or, Why I’ve been pensive lately

December 10th, 2012

Do you believe in math? Before you decide not to read this blogentry because of my known apocalyptic tendencies – e.g., twenty-five years ago a friend told me she was not surprised that I identified with Kassandra in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Firebrand - think about your scientific and rational training. If you believe in math, and you want to know the real deal, this is it. Perhaps you already know what’s coming, but have not believed in what you know? The following info (based in math and science) kicked my ass from knowing to believing.

“I wanna be an un-fucker!”

I want to be funny and still have fun and enjoy living, while confessing that I am not completely eager. Not panicked or desperate, either – at least not yet. Maybe I’ll stave that off until we’re all gasping for the last molecules of oxygen in the northern hemisphere. Even better, perhaps (with a couple of decades left to practice), I’ll have achieved an ideal state of Tai Chi relaxation and simply cross over. I’ll hope the same for you, too (whenever and however your turn comes).

This information didn’t come to me on purpose; I was not trying to learn it. (Crap!)

Randomly, a last minute request came through to interpret a lecture at UMass. The talk by Guy McPherson was livestreamed, you can view his lecture here (simultaneous interpretation into American Sign Language begins at the 7th minute but it’s hard to make out). Trying to prep before the talk began, as good interpreters tend to do, my colleague asked McPherson about his main point. Guy promptly showed us a music video by Katie Goodman. That’s all we got; it was enough to understand that the news was not going to be particularly cheerful.

“It’s not the temperature that’s going to kill us.”

No, its the ecological effects to the environment that are gonna take out homo sapiens and quite possibly every other living creature with us.

In twenty-five years, give or take a few…. (approximately 35 for the southern hemisphere, lucky dogs.)

2037. ( 2047)

Because the oceans are going to get too warm and acidified for the plankton to survive.

Plankton from the ocean produces half, that’s 1/2, as in 50%, of the oxygen for the entire planet. (Guy said something about a potential for losing all the land plants too and then there goes the rest of the oxygen. Poof.)

I’m not going to reproduce his argument – watch the video linked above or check out the data at his website, for instance, this entry on “What’s Important.”  He’s as entertaining as a person can be, under the circumstances. For instance:

The last time the planet was six degrees warmer there were snakes the size of yellow school buses living in the Amazon and the largest mammal was the size of a shrew…. The last time it was six degrees warmer on this planet there were no humans.

McPherson did emphasize that the essential prediction was made in a United Nations report 22 years ago, “rapid, unpredictable and non-linear responses” leading to catastrophic ecosystem changes. That results from only 1C degree temperature increase. More recent reports (2009, 2010) show 3.5C  and 4C  temperature increases by mid-century.  Tim Garrett’s 2009 paper sums up the current situation: “ the current rate of energy consumption is determined by the unchangeable past of economic production.”

“Economists think you need population and standard of living to estimate productivity,” he says. “In my model, all you need to know is how fast energy consumption is rising. The reason why is because there is this link between the economy and rates of energy consumption, and it’s just a constant factor.”

{Link to a free version of Garrett’s full published study here.}

The only solution is systemic collapse and the resulting decrease in standards of living.

There is no science fiction solution

Telling a friend about the talk soon afterwards, she asked about a technological solution. So did some of the people in the audience. I’ve kept thinking about this because, I too, want to believe someone, somewhere is figuring out the massive (global) retrofit and someone else, somehow is crafting the implementation plan. (And everyone is getting ready to go along with it, no problem!) Well, call me a pessimist in the end, but I haven’t smoked that much pot! Have you noticed how nicely we’re all managing American democracy lately? And we’re supposed to be the good guys? The ones everyone else around the world looks up to and wants to be like? (Seems that was just a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away….)

Guy wasn’t as harsh ast that, he just said there is no politically viable answer. The reason we’re in this mess is because we’ve allowed the system to develop as it has.  We cannot save our lifestyles and ourselves: we have to choose. The other popular question from the audience was, “Why aren’t the climate change scientists talking like this?” Guy’s answer makes sense to me. “They all want to save civilization.”  Dammit!  So do I!  I like being warm and eating all kinds of exotic food and traveling and coming home and not worrying about whether there’s going to be power or water pressure to flush the toilet and SHIT, I’M REALLY GOING TO MISS HOT SHOWERS.

Tim Garrett (quoted above), says we need to be building 2.1 nuclear reactors per day to maintain current energy production/consumption without increasing global warming. Obviously, this ain’t happening. Solar and wind are coming but ever so slowly, and the energy costs of their production contribute to Garrett’s energy consumption constant.

Saving humanity for the next civilization

What there is, however, is hope. Earth’s natural systems can still recover if we simply stop the industrial machine. Unplug. Completely. No more drilling no more unclean power generation of any type. Stop driving stop flying stop with the lights, the internet omg, the factories, the production production production and consumption consumption consumption. I’m thinking of friends who would only attend the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival in a camper or by staying in a hotel. I wish it was different; I wish we/our forebears had had the gumption to stick with limits, stop fighting over everything and figure out how to share. They didn’t and we still haven’t, not enough of us (yet) but we can, because we have to.

There is a choice, hard as it is to imagine. We can persist in denial, waiting waiting for the system to collapse (while wishfully hoping not) and then, when the end comes, however it comes, it will truly be beyond awful. Or we can Do It, start shifting now, mobilizing alone and with friends, neighbors, and at the level of communities and towns to transition to old ways of living. I am not excited, but I am less and less afraid.

Feet in two worlds

I will work “aboveground” – but there are options for radical work underground. Please do not inform me about any underground activities.

Guy lists the four things human beings need to survive: clean water, food, shelter that maintains body temperature, and community. Depending on where you live, you’ll have more or less immediate access to any or all of these things. Start thinking about how you’re going to take care of yourself. Better, start talking with people about what to do, identify the important problems and start solving them. How will you get clean water without city plumbing or regular deliveries to the grocery store? I know, it is fantastical to imagine, maybe start by making it a game of What If? 

In the meantime, don’t panic. Keep doing regular things in the world as it is. I’m writing my dissertation, tending my cat, socializing with friends . . . enjoying what each day brings because tomorrow can no longer be assumed to follow today as today followed yesterday. The other popular question audience members asked Guy was along the lines of, “Well, since it’s so fucked up why not just party like it’s 1999? Go out dancing, playing with the band while the ship goes down?” Guy’s answer, again, was laconic: how would we know if Americans became any more hedonistic than we already are?

The point is, there is a chance of evolving beyond our limitations and rescuing humanity (and some of the rest of life on earth) from extinction. We just have to become better than we believe we can be.


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