Archive for the ‘Global Problem’ Category

Randy Hayes: The 9 Boundaries That Ensure a Healthy Planet

April 15, 2015

Harvey Wasserman. (photo:
Harvey Wasserman. (photo:

By Harvey Wasserman, Reader Supported News

14 April 15


andy Hayes is a great green lifer.

Decades ago he founded the Rainforest Action Network, still one of the major players in the save-the-Earth infrastructure. Now he runs Foundation Earth.

Never one to comprise, Randy has gone beyond his fair share of assorted jail stints and come out more dedicated than ever.

“We need to double the world’s forests,” he told me last week over smoothies in the nation’s capital. “It’s a major part of solving the climate crisis.”

The world’s biggest industry, he added, is industrial agriculture. No one does more damage, nowhere is there more potential for constructive change.

We met in the presence of the great Brent Blackwelder, long-time president of Friends of the Earth, as gracious a human being as you’ll ever meet. And a bona fide giant in the campaign to save our planet. His accomplishments could more than fill the rest of this article, and then some.

In the course of our strategizing, Randy mentioned a new piece of his tireless work: “Nine Planetary Ecological Boundaries” employed to establish guidelines for investments in agriculture. As many of us campaign to divest major capital funds from their Earth-killing investments in King CONG (Coal, Oil, Nukes & Gas), Randy is working to do much the same in the corporate reaches of growing mass quantities of edibles (not all of it actually qualifies as food, which is part of the problem).

Luckily, Randy was ready to join me on my Solartopia Green Power & Wellness Show this week. Listen here:

And here are his nine great Planetary Boundaries. If we work hard enough, they just might help us survive …

Basic Conditions for Life

The planet supports all life via the earth’s natural systems. These systems are self-organizing and self-repairing within limits. When these limits are exceeded, the natural biophysical system starts to disintegrate making existence harder for the entire web of life and certainly us humans. In 2009, a group of 28 internationally renowned scientists identified a set of planetary boundaries within which humanity can continue to develop and thrive for generations to come alongside these natural systems. Scientists are clear on one reality: crossing certain boundaries will generate abrupt or irreversible biophysical changes and reduce the planet’s ability to support life. We have no definitive idea how many important dimensions there are to the global life-support system. While imperfect, this framework is important and helpful.

These nine boundaries are as follows: freshwater use, land-system change, biosphere integrity (diversity), chemical dispersion, climate change, ocean acidification, biochemical flows (nitrogen and phosphorus cycles), stratospheric ozone depletion, novel entities (modified organisms) and atmospheric aerosol loading (air pollution).

All the boundaries are closely linked. Scientists have techniques to quantify the health of most of the boundaries, while others require more research. It is an important indicator and feedback system to ensure a healthy planet and hence a healthy human context.

Smart Bankers & Investors

Smart bankers and investors need to have their investments respect these boundaries and help maintain global ecological stability and livability. This is a key to all economic stability. To achieve this, bankers and investors need loan seekers to disclose ecological impacts or potential impacts to the planetary systems. Bankers and investors also need internal analysis of the data and adjustments to the economic activities they want to fund.

The nine planetary boundaries are:

    1. Stratospheric Ozone Depletion: The stratospheric ozone layer in the atmosphere filters out ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. If this barrier thins, ultraviolet radiation will reach the ground and damage terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, causing increased occurrences of skin cancer in humans. The reduction of the Antarctic ozone hole was proof that thinning can and will occur if we do not remain on the path set by the Montreal Protocol Treaty.
    1. Biosphere Integrity: The rate of biodiversity loss (terrestrial and marine) has escalated in the past 50 years, driven primarily by land use change for industrial agricultural use. This has resulted in ecosystem damage and species extinction. When a species goes extinct, its function in the web of life is lost. If, for example, the extinct species is a key crop pollinator, you can imagine the damage done to farmers and the ability to feed people. Research is underway to gather data and understand variables that will help shape a boundary.
    1. Chemical Dispersion and the release of novel entities: Emissions of toxic and long-lived substances such as synthetic organic pollutants, heavy metal compounds and radioactive materials represent some of the key human-driven changes to the planet. These compounds can have potentially irreversible effects on living organisms and on the physical environment (by affecting atmospheric processes and climate). Even when the uptake and bioaccumulation of chemical pollution is at sub-lethal levels for organisms, the effects of reduced fertility and the potential of permanent genetic damage can have severe effects on ecosystems far removed from the source of the pollution. Persistent organic compounds have caused dramatic reductions in bird populations and impaired reproduction and development in marine mammals. Further research is needed.
    1. Climate Change: This planetary boundary has likely already been transgressed, as evidenced by the loss of summer polar ice. Continued pressure through deforestation techniques (especially tropical rainforests) will push Earth’s systems past the tipping point. A precautionary approach would be to not continue on this path to avoid potentially cataclysmic consequences.
    1. Ocean Acidification: Oceans absorb a quarter of human CO2 emissions, transforming them into carbonic acid and altering ocean chemistry and water pH. This process is devastating to coral and plankton populations, which are critical to a balanced, functioning ocean. Upsetting the bottom of the food chain can pull the rug out from under the entire food pyramid. While all the boundaries are closely linked, ocean acidification is directly associated with and a result of climate change.
    1. Freshwater Use: Human consumption is directly responsible for the loss of freshwater supplies. It is estimated that by 2050, approximately half a billion people will suffer from lack of access to freshwater. A boundary has been proposed to help manage local, regional, and continental needs.
    1. Land-system Change: The global population continues to grow by the billions. Agricultural development to feed this population has caused the destruction of forests, wetlands, prairies, and other vegetation systems. This alters water flows and the natural cycling of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus in soil. In developing a boundary, the function, quality, and spatial distribution of a tract of land must be considered.
    1. Biochemical Flows (Nitrogen and Phosphorus Cycling): Human industry and agricultural practices have altered natural cycles of these two elements, both of which are essential to plant growth. Human activity converts exorbitant amounts of atmospheric nitrogen into reactive nitrogen, which pollutes waterways and coastal zones. Over application of phosphorus fertilizers can have huge regional impacts; such as killing off shrimp populations in the Gulf of Mexico or creating dead zones in the oceans.
  1. Atmospheric Aerosol Loading: This boundary is proposed to combat the effects of aerosols on Earth’s climate system. Aerosols interact with water vapor and affect cloud formation and global and regional atmospheric circulation. Each year, an estimated 800,000 people die from consistently breathing aerosol-polluted air. However, interactions between aerosols and the atmosphere are complex, and this has hindered the clear characterization of this boundary.

In summary, we depend daily on biophysical processes for the food on our plate and the air we breathe. We are embedded in and connected to life support systems like biodiversity and eight others. Increasingly, bankers and investors get this connection. An injury to another species is an injury to humanity. The market must stop investing in industries destructive to the planetary boundaries if we are to support continued existence!

Harvey Wasserman’s “Solartopia! Our Green-Powered Earth, AD 2030″ is He is senior advisor to Greenpeace USA and the Nuclear Information & Resource Service, and writes regularly for He and Bob Fitrakis have co-authored four books on election protection, including “Did George W. Bush Steal America’s 2004 Election?,” “As Goes Ohio: Election Theft Since 2004,” “How the GOP Stole America’s 2004 Election & Is Rigging 2008,” and “What Happened in Ohio.”


Planetary Suicide

February 11, 2015
Life Arts 2/11/2015 at 11:09:17

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Every so often a nonfiction book comes along that, because of its objective, comprehensive coverage of a hot topic, should be carefully read with a highlighter in hand by everyone. That new book is“Unprecedented” by David Ray Griffin. Be warned, this book will probably bum you out. It presents the most readable treatment of the global warming and climate change issue that anyone could wish for. It is not an emotional rant, but rather a carefully organized and detailed discussion. Most significantly, with carefully documented sources, it allows a reader to fully appreciate the compelling and overwhelming scientific evidence supporting a negative view of our planet’s and civilization’s future.

Sadly, I suspect that the many climate deniers who most need to read such a book and learn all the facts will probably not do so. However, for the greater number of sensible people who do believe that the planet is, or is likely to be, on a path to unspeakable disaster, this book is a most useful resource to better understand, debate and actively support faster and more effective political action by the US and other nations.

I was more motivated than most others to read this book because I recently completed a trip into the Antarctic. With my own eyes I saw evidence of what Griffin discusses, including sea-level rise resulting from melting ice and higher ocean temperatures. I find this particular problem perhaps the most compelling of a number of global environmental changes that threatens humanity. Why? Because sea-level rise has been going on for a long time, eating up coastal lands all over the world. But now sea-level rise is accelerating and at such a rapid rate that virtually all major coastal cities are extremely threatened.

Emissions already in the atmosphere spell tragedy for 316 US cities where 3.6 million people live, according to a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And without forceful action, things will only get worse.

People may not care much about a few islands disappearing. But untold millions of people will face the need to escape cities worldwide that will not be able to cope with and survive many feet of higher oceans flooding their infrastructure, streets and housing. Where will those millions of people go? How will such deep economic disaster be managed by governments?

What I saw in Antarctica was the melting away of glaciers on mountains. Even more startling was seeing unbelievably large tabular, rectangular icebergs in the ocean near Antarctica, often with dimensions of a mile or more. These are pieces of ice sheets that are increasingly breaking off because of warmer air and water. Third, is the shrinkage of some penguin home sites because of higher temperatures.

Will technology come to the rescue? I am old enough to remember the 1960s when there was a passionate argument that rising population and consequent food shortages spelled global doom. It did not happen. Why? Because various technologies came to the rescue and greatly expanded food production. This and other disaster scenarios that never come to pass foster an attitude of technological optimism. This blocks both political action and public demands for emergency solutions to ecological catastrophe tied to climate change and global warming. So, will there be a technological solution enacted fast enough to prevent this new nightmare scenario? It is a lot to hope for. It is being called geoengineering. It includes methods to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and to reflect sunlight. Griffin pays just a little attention to geoengineering and not in the final section of the book where it belongs.

A major problem with all those trying to get the public, the media and the political world to focus on fast actions to sharply cut carbon dioxide emissions now is that they fear attention to geoengineering will make it harder to take rapid actions to replace dirty technologies with green ones. Two new related reports on climate intervention by the US National Academy of Sciences support more geoengineering research. But the head of the research project noted “we need to do more now to reduce emissions, which is the most effective, least risky way to combat climate change.”

The best strategy is to pursue both approaches, emissions reduction and geoengineering, with vigor, but this is not emphasized by Griffin or many others sounding alarms about climate change. With so much at stake, to depend on either approach by itself is foolish. To wait until emissions reduction does not greatly cut global disaster threats to develop a geoengineering solution is crazy.

Another cautionary note to the many trying to broaden public passion and government action is to stop saying things like what Griffin says at the end of his book: “Given our refusal to cut emissions over the past 30 years, it is already too late to save the kind of world that has been hospitable to human being since the rise of civilization.” Ok, maybe that pessimistic view has some credence. But it also can feed broad public disinterest because it is too late and makes it difficult to take gutsy political action and spend big money on remedies.

As Griffin noted, a 2013 Pew poll found that only 28 percent of Americans believe climate change should be a top priority of federal politicians. What an utterly dismal situation. A more recent 2015 poll found that the segment of the US population having the strongest views for addressing climate change are Hispanics and, conversely, Republicans have the least concern about it. Unless a large majority of people take responsibility for contributing to planetary suicide the worst scenarios are likely to come true.

I urge everyone who reads this book to get at least three other people to also read it. If pessimism, selfishness and narcissism prevail, concern about future generations will be largely disregarded. Can most people give high priority to the strong possibility that the human race as we know it today does not survive? The subtitle of Griffin’s book is “Can civilization survive the CO2 crisis?” Read the book and you are likely to say No! Then the question is: Are you now motivated to speak up and work to avoid perilous decay and doomsday?

Joel S. Hirschhorn is the author of Delusional Democracy – Fixing the Republic Without Overthrowing the Government. His current political writings have been greatly influenced by working as a senior staffer for the U.S. Congress and for the (more…)

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Is it Too Late to Save the Planet?

January 24, 2015


Our planet’s ecosystem is under duress and human activity and human behavior as the main culprits. It’s time our species stops contributing to the problem and starts becoming the solution.


  1. Physics – a thermodynamic quantity representing the unavailability of a system’s thermal energy for conversion into mechanical work, often interpreted as the degree of disorder or randomness in the system.
  1. lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder.

Having fun in the sun last summer was no sweat for people living on the East Coast – literally. As the rest of the country sweltered, Easterners were experiencing cooler-than-normal temperatures last summer. It was a gift to any climate-denying member of Congress who happened to be living in Northern Virginia, for example. “Proof” that global warming is a hoax.

Westerners weren’t so fortunate.  The weirdly cool weather on the East Coast was matched by weirdly warm and dry weather on the West Coast.  Specifically in South California.  Each is an example of what climate scientists call an anomaly. Like a Republican or Democrat in Congress who cares more about serving the people than getting re-elected – anomalies happen in all times and places.

Hence the question Amy Davidson posed in a recent article in the New Yorker (“Our Hottest Year, Our Cold Indifference”):  Will indifference to climate science one day be an anomaly?

We know that the planet’s ecosystem is under duress. We know that everything from biodiversity to ocean chemistry is being degraded, that entropy due to global population growth and human activity is a major cause.  We know that climate change is not some sci-fi fantasy anymore. It is happening, the signs are abundant, and, as Davidson rightly points out, too many of our leaders – and I dare say, too many voters – are indifferent. “The planet is changing, and we are close to the time when trying to check climate change will be like trying to redirect El Niño with canoe paddles.”

She’s right, of course.  But two things often missing in cautionary tales about our beleaguered planet are 1) a policy prescription for the government and 2) an action  program for the rest of us. Specifically, there’s rarely any mention of conservation as a kind of categorical public-policy imperative.

It isn’t enough to decry lower oil prices as a disincentive to dependence on fossil fuel. Global population stands at a staggering 7.3 billion and will continue to rise for the next few decades if not longer. Nobody wants to talk about population in part because most everything that can be done about that issue has already been or is being done. Yet the numbers are still rising, will continue to rise, and cannot be reversed without some catastrophic event — a pandemic, major asteroid impact, or nuclear holocaust. No one wants that, it probably won’t happen, and no one wants to hear, read, or think about it.

So there’s nothing we can do, right?  Wrong.

The science is clear – human activity and human behavior are changing the planet, and not in a good way.  Astrophysicist Adam Frank put this point into sharper focus: “The defining feature of a technological civilization is the capacity to intensively ‘harvest’ energy. But the basic physics of energy, heat and work known as thermodynamics tell us that waste, or what we physicists call entropy, must be generated and dumped back into the environment in the process.” Globally, we generate around 100 billion megawatt hours of energy every year and dump 36 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere and oceans, not to mention rivers, coal slurry impoundments (“sludge ponds”), aquifers, and underground “sequestration”, all of which goes a very long way to explaining the  overheating planet and acidifying oceans.

We’re in control and reckless which is why the planet is out of control and threatened.  As a species, we will either modify our behavior or perish, but not before we drive many other species into distinction (a process well underway).

Still, we’re not doomed.  Not yet, anyway. Maybe we can change.  Maybe out indifference will give way to our instinct for survival in time.  Maybe we will come to understand that we have to conserve in order to survive, reorganize our cities and societies, depend less on long-distance transport and travel, and do more on a local level. We have to drive fewer cars fewer miles, build mass transit systems, and subsidize riders for being good citizens. We have to consume less and conserve more of everything — from water and fossil fuel to wildlife and rain forests. We have to do a much better job of protecting the atmosphere, oceans, topsoil.

Our species has caused this problem and there will be a lot more of us either contributing to the problem or becoming the solution in the future. We have to learn to do more with less. A lot less. It probably won’t happen any time soon on the scale that’s needed, but it will happen sooner or later because it has to.  Let’s hope it won’t be too late.

Changing the System Requires Seeing It Clearly

January 21, 2015
OpEdNews Op Eds 1/21/2015 at 08:11:37By (about the author)     Permalink       (Page 1 of 1 pages)
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From NASA GOES-12 Full Disk view March 25, 2010
NASA GOES-12 Full Disk view March 25, 2010
(image by NASA Goddard Photo and Video)

The recent killing of 13 workers at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has elicited powerful reactions around the world. A mass march in Paris attracted many heads of state, including Francois Hollande and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Yet their slogan of solidarity “We are Charlie Hebdo” was challenged by the National Antiwar Coalition in the US in a powerful January 16th statement entitled “We are not Charlie Hebdo.” UNAC pointed out the massive global terrorism of France, Israel, the US, and the imperial nations as they hypocritically claim they are fighting terror and defending freedom and civility. In reality, they are manipulating the public to advance the demonization of Islam, their global imperial designs, and the myth that they are against violence and terrorism.

Commentator Robert Parry wrote a long analysis for Consortium News on January 18thdistinguishing the “Anti-realist” Neocons from their “Realist” predecessors in the US government. Perry speaks of the effectiveness of “perception-management” as the Neocons manipulate the public to elicit support for their wars in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Libya, and elsewhere. Parry concludes:

“What the neocons have constructed through their skilled propaganda is a grim wonderland where no one foresees the dangers of encouraging Islamist fundamentalism as a geopolitical ploy, where no one takes heed of the historic hatreds of Sunni and Shiite, where no one suspects that the U.S. military slaughtering thousands upon thousands of Muslims might provoke a backlash, where no one thinks about the consequences of overthrowing regimes in unstable regions, where no one bothers to study the bitter history of a place like Ukraine, and where no one worries about spreading turmoil to nuclear-armed Russia. Yet, this neocon madness — this “anti-realism” — has been playing out in the real world on a grand scale, destroying real lives and endangering the real future of the planet.”

I want to point out, however, a description is not an analysis, and true as it may be that the Neocons endanger the real future of our planet, a deeper analysis points toward the world-system as a whole that is endangering the future of our planet. Nor is it simply enough to resist imperialism and capitalism without posing a genuinely practical alternative. The world-system as a whole has evolved from the early-modern rise of capitalism within the context of the early-modern development of the system of sovereign nation-states. These two developments belong together: the political form hosts the economic form and provides legal enforcement and protection for those who have accumulated massive concentrations of private wealth. As social-scientist Christopher Chase-Dunn expresses this in Global Formation: Structures of World Economy (1998):

“The state and the interstate system are not separate from capitalism, but rather are the main institutional supports of capitalist production relations. The system of unequally powerful and competing nation-states is part of the competitive struggle of capitalism, and thus wars and geopolitics are a systematic part of capitalist dynamics, not exogenous forces.” (61)

Whether “Realists” or “Neocons” or progressive democrats are in power makes little effective difference.

Whether “Realists” or “Neocons” or progressive democrats are in power makes little effective difference. Inherent in the system is the drive to colonize and control the world in the service of the 1%, as James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer made clear in Empire With Imperialism (2005). It is not a matter of “Realists” versus “Antirealists” coming to power. It is not a matter of a popular movement to elect Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders as President. If we want a future on this planet it must be the global system itself that undergoes fundamental change.

Neither is it enough to stop the proposed Keystone Pipeline Project and/or the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement. Stopping these disastrous initiatives will not change the system. Neither will electing Democrats or some Green Party candidate to the US Congress. The evil marriage between capitalism and the system of sovereign nations will not tolerate the substitution of democratic socialism within the system of sovereign states. Sovereign states exist as inherently a war-system (as was pointed out by Thomas Hobbes, Baruch Spinoza, Immanuel Kant, and G.W.F. Hegel), and a war-system invites imperialism and requires a capitalist industrial military complex. To institute democratic socialism means simultaneously to rid the world of militarized sovereign states.

If our analysis is to go to the root of the problem, then we must re-envision both economic capitalism and its political embodiment in militarized sovereign nation-states. Our analysis also requires that we move to a planetary perspective. No longer can we tolerate a world fragmented into multiple competing, greedy corporations or multiple militarized lawless sovereign states. The reality of our human situation is that we are one species, one human reality, living within one fragile planetary ecosystem. Our vision must be global and our solution must be global.

Our vision must convert the economics of greed with absolute winners and losers to a planet-wide ecologically sound economics of cooperation, resource sharing, and mutual empowerment. Simultaneously, the mirror image of a global economics of sustainability is a global earth federation under the Constitution for the Federation of Earth. Politics and economics mirror one another (as Karl Marx and many others have pointed out). We must have a politics that can place the common good of the Earth and its citizens before the private goods of nations and corporations. Only an Earth Federation government with real power to make and enforce laws for the common good of all can achieve this.

The history of anthropogenic climate change alone should make my argument convincing to all reasonably mature, rational people (which leaves out about half the U.S. Congress). Already, by the 1992 U.N. Climate Conference at Rio de Janeiro, the scientific evidence was overwhelming and the urgency of our situation was well known. In spite of this massive evidence that we are destroying the very planet that supports human life, and despite similar massive conferences at Johannesburg in 2002 and Copenhagen in 2009, the nations and corporations of the world today (more than two decades later) continue to destroy the ecosystem of the Earth unabated.

The system of warring sovereign nations animated by the system of globalized corporate greed is in principle incapable of change to the degree required to save the planet for future generations. Only a transformed planetary system, uniting humanity where we belong under a global social contract, is capable of creating a viable future for the Earth and its living creatures.

The Constitution for the Federation of Earth establishes a new economic system (global public banking directed toward sustainability and the planetary common good) and a new political system–a democratically elected World Parliament with the mandate to protect the planetary ecosystem, end poverty, demilitarize the nations, and protect human rights worldwide.

If we have a genuine insight into the nature of the world system, then it will be clear what a number of great thinkers from Albert Einstein to Carl Jung have stated: you cannot solve fundamental problems on the same level from which the problems arose in the first place. Yet that is exactly what we are trying to do by attempting to “manage” or “modify” global capitalism and the militarized sovereign states. We need to move to a higher level of thinking, and fast, for our planet is in danger as never before in human history.

We need to think truly globally, which means to think in terms of a global, democratic economics and politics. The pattern for this is there for all to see in the Earth Constitution. It is time we rise to the higher level from which our earlier problems will not so much become solved as dissolved. It is time to unite humanity in a global social contract–a democratic Federation of the Earth. It may well be now or never.

Glen T. Martin is professor of philosophy and chair of the Peace Studies Program at Radford University in Virginia. President of the World Constitution and Parliament Association (WCPA), the Institute on World Problems (IOWP), and International (more…)

Comment: The artificial pyramidal system (5 fictitious bodies: nation, corporation, media, education, religion with 5 calamities: delusion, bondage, discrimination, exploitation, extermination) must be changed to natural Indra-net system (5 factual bases; nature, community, communication, cooperation, holiness – wholly wholesome way world – with 5 bliss: awakening, freedom, equality, love, peace), from central power concentration (materialism, militarism, money-ism, me-ism) to centerless life centers (5 Ss of the global system: Systemic, Sustainable, Saving, Safe, Simple, 5 Ls of the global ethic: Law, Life, Love, Liberation, Lielessness with 5  Rs of material flow: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rearrange, Restore and 5 As of information flow: Access, Assess, Agree, Action, Advise). The Buddha taught us that all living beings are karma-heirs, -possessors, -machines, -resorts and that we must first still bad karmas (sitting meditation) and see dharmas (awakening) in nirvana (windless of karmas, absolute peace conditioned by nothing worldly, karmic) in the ultimate supra-mundane truth (before karmas, triple poisons of greed, anger, and delusion in the triple learning of morality, concentration, and prognosis: penetration).

Rosan Daido (Yoshida)

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Limits to Growth was right. New research shows we’re nearing collapse

January 21, 2015

Four decades after the book was published, Limit to Growth’s forecasts have been vindicated by new Australian research. Expect the early stages of global collapse to start appearing soon
Piles of crushed cars at a metal recycling site in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Piles of crushed cars at a metal recycling site in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Photograph: Alamy
Graham Turner and Cathy Alexander
Monday 1 September 2014 21.15 EDT
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The 1972 book Limits to Growth, which predicted our civilisation would probably collapse some time this century, has been criticised as doomsday fantasy since it was published. Back in 2002, self-styled environmental expert Bjorn Lomborg consigned it to the “dustbin of history”.

It doesn’t belong there. Research from the University of Melbourne has found the book’s forecasts are accurate, 40 years on. If we continue to track in line with the book’s scenario, expect the early stages of global collapse to start appearing soon.

Limits to Growth was commissioned by a think tank called the Club of Rome. Researchers working out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, including husband-and-wife team Donella and Dennis Meadows, built a computer model to track the world’s economy and environment. Called World3, this computer model was cutting edge.

The task was very ambitious. The team tracked industrialisation, population, food, use of resources, and pollution. They modelled data up to 1970, then developed a range of scenarios out to 2100, depending on whether humanity took serious action on environmental and resource issues. If that didn’t happen, the model predicted “overshoot and collapse” – in the economy, environment and population – before 2070. This was called the “business-as-usual” scenario.

The book’s central point, much criticised since, is that “the earth is finite” and the quest for unlimited growth in population, material goods etc would eventually lead to a crash.


So were they right? We decided to check in with those scenarios after 40 years. Dr Graham Turner gathered data from the UN (its department of economic and social affairs, Unesco, the food and agriculture organisation, and the UN statistics yearbook). He also checked in with the US national oceanic and atmospheric administration, the BP statistical review, and elsewhere. That data was plotted alongside the Limits to Growth scenarios.

The results show that the world is tracking pretty closely to the Limits to Growth “business-as-usual” scenario. The data doesn’t match up with other scenarios.

These graphs show real-world data (first from the MIT work, then from our research), plotted in a solid line. The dotted line shows the Limits to Growth “business-as-usual” scenario out to 2100. Up to 2010, the data is strikingly similar to the book’s forecasts.

limits to growth
Solid line: MIT, with new research in bold. Dotted line: Limits to Growth ‘business-as-usual’ scenario.
limits to growth
Solid line: MIT, with new research in bold. Dotted line: Limits to Growth ‘business-as-usual’ scenario. Photograph: Supplied
limits to growth
Solid line: MIT, and research in bold. Dotted line: Limits to Growth ‘business-as-usual’ scenario. Photograph: Supplied
As the MIT researchers explained in 1972, under the scenario, growing population and demands for material wealth would lead to more industrial output and pollution. The graphs show this is indeed happening. Resources are being used up at a rapid rate, pollution is rising, industrial output and food per capita is rising. The population is rising quickly.

So far, Limits to Growth checks out with reality. So what happens next?

According to the book, to feed the continued growth in industrial output there must be ever-increasing use of resources. But resources become more expensive to obtain as they are used up. As more and more capital goes towards resource extraction, industrial output per capita starts to fall – in the book, from about 2015.

As pollution mounts and industrial input into agriculture falls, food production per capita falls. Health and education services are cut back, and that combines to bring about a rise in the death rate from about 2020. Global population begins to fall from about 2030, by about half a billion people per decade. Living conditions fall to levels similar to the early 1900s.

It’s essentially resource constraints that bring about global collapse in the book. However, Limits to Growth does factor in the fallout from increasing pollution, including climate change. The book warned carbon dioxide emissions would have a “climatological effect” via “warming the atmosphere”.

As the graphs show, the University of Melbourne research has not found proof of collapse as of 2010 (although growth has already stalled in some areas). But in Limits to Growth those effects only start to bite around 2015-2030.

The first stages of decline may already have started. The Global Financial Crisis of 2007-08 and ongoing economic malaise may be a harbinger of the fallout from resource constraints. The pursuit of material wealth contributed to unsustainable levels of debt, with suddenly higher prices for food and oil contributing to defaults – and the GFC.

The issue of peak oil is critical. Many independent researchers conclude that “easy” conventional oil production has already peaked. Even the conservative International Energy Agency has warned about peak oil.

Peak oil could be the catalyst for global collapse. Some see new fossil fuel sources like shale oil, tar sands and coal seam gas as saviours, but the issue is how fast these resources can be extracted, for how long, and at what cost. If they soak up too much capital to extract the fallout would be widespread.

Our research does not indicate that collapse of the world economy, environment and population is a certainty. Nor do we claim the future will unfold exactly as the MIT researchers predicted back in 1972. Wars could break out; so could genuine global environmental leadership. Either could dramatically affect the trajectory.

But our findings should sound an alarm bell. It seems unlikely that the quest for ever-increasing growth can continue unchecked to 2100 without causing serious negative effects – and those effects might come sooner than we think.

It may be too late to convince the world’s politicians and wealthy elites to chart a different course. So to the rest of us, maybe it’s time to think about how we protect ourselves as we head into an uncertain future.

As Limits to Growth concluded in 1972:

If the present growth trends in world population, industrialisation, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years. The most probable result will be a rather sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity.

So far, there’s little to indicate they got that wrong.

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In the face of these rising, vast and ominous threats we as a country have no awareness, no discussion and no plan

January 18, 2015

About Hope

“I feel a lot better, since I gave up hope.”

It was a throwaway line in a novel I read somewhere, but it has become my mantra. Let me explain.

Our society honors hope. Our president celebrates the audacity of hope. And the hope that sustains one against long odds, in the quest for a far-off goal, can be a good thing. But inappropriate hope is not a good thing.

A young man may wish he had a date with Angelina Jolie, and there’s nothing wrong with that — imagining what your friends would say, how your fellow workers would change their attitudes, what it would be like sitting across the table from a goddess. But let that daydream turn to hope — burning, constant, all-consuming hope — and pretty soon our audacious young man is a stalker hanging around her house and following her to the mall. That is inappropriate hope, and he’ll feel (and do) a lot better when he gives it up.

We (and by we, I mean we who live in industrialized society) are enjoying a life of luxury unprecedented in history. All but the poorest among us enjoy access to food, water, shelter, energy, transportation and entertainment undreamed of by yesterday’s kings, shahs, czars and presidents.  We who enjoy the life hope it continues. Those who do not yet have the life — the rising masses of China and India, for example — hope to have it very soon.

But the massive industrialization on which this luxury rests has a delayed, cumulative cost about to be collected.  The economies of scale sought and achieved so assiduously over the decades have a dark twin — concentration of risk. The bigger the factory, farm or city, the denser the population, the more susceptible it is to disaster. If the factory only runs on oil and the oil runs out; if the farm only grows wheat and a wheat disease runs rampant; if an earthquake hits the city; what might have been a minor setback for a smaller, sustainable and diverse enterprise is fatal to the overgrown dinosaur.

Do you doubt the accumulation of these risks? A quick tour of the points I made in detail in my book Brace for Impact:

  • For every ton of food or fiber produced by industrial agriculture in the United States, an average of seven tons of topsoil has been lost to wind and water. This is not the arithmetic of hope.
  • Over-fertilization of farm fields and lawns, along with inadequate treatment of sewage, has poisoned our waterways and created huge dead zones in all out estuaries.
  • Confinement, force-feeding and mistreatment of food animals has sickened the animals, contaminated the food and created superbugs and toxins that endanger the human population.
  • Peak oil — the moment of maximum possible extraction of oil, followed by an inevitable and irreversible decline, is here. No agency of our government, no leader of our people, has admitted it or has begun work to avert the certain disaster that is about to begin.
  • Our aquifers — the only water safe from the pollution mentioned above — are being exploited for agriculture and development without concern for their limits. The Ogallala Aquifer, for example, that underlies the north-central United States, is fossil water deposited by glaciers that is replenished by rain at a rate of fractions of an inch per year. We are extracting it at rates of many feet per year.

In the face of these rising, vast and ominous threats we as a country have  no awareness, no discussion and no plan. In other words, no hope.

And yet there is this. While it is not now possible to save everybody, to save the society from collapse, it is not only possible but relatively simple to save any one of us, or any family or community or clan of us, that chooses right now to live sustainably. We know how to produce our own food, clothing, shelter and energy without degrading the web of life that sustains us and all creatures. All it requires is work. And giving up the life of luxury.

We stand on the deck of the Titanic, watching the bow going down, hearing the water rushing in. We have asked the crew what they’re going to do about it and they have promised us a full refund of the price of our ticket. We have seen on the afterdeck some lifeboat kits, small craft that could be assembled and launched in a short time by anyone willing to do the work.

Most of us, however, will wander back in to the all-you-can-eat buffet (better hurry, the floor is tilting rather crazily), pour another drink, rearrange some deck chairs and turn on the television. And hope things turn out all right.

That is called natural selection. And that is why I feel so much better now that I have given up hope.

– The Editor


Scientists to Earth: Prepare to Abandon Planet

January 18, 2015

Earth First! Now we’ll trash the other planets. There are other planets, right? (Photo by Gideon Wright/Flickr)

Two major scientific studies out this week agree that it may well be time to include other planets in your future relocation plans. Because we have just about finished trashing this one. One study says that of nine “planetary boundaries,” which is to say boundaries between inhabitable and uninhabitable, human activity has already wrecked four. The other finds an implacable rise in the number of mass dyings of animals, of such magnitude that they “can reshape the ecological and evolutionary trajectories of life on Earth.” And, need we specify, not in a good way. Let’s see what these studies say, and then consider what we should make of what they say.

Five years ago, a group of scientists laid out a series of benchmarks for assessing the damage we’ve done to the web of life. They established nine “boundaries” that define a “safe operating space” for humanity — theoretical limits to destruction that we exceed at our peril. They were: the rate at which species are becoming extinct; the rate of deforestation; the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; the flow of nutrients from fertilizer into the oceans; ozone depletion; freshwater use; ocean acidification; atmospheric aerosol pollution; and the introduction of exotic chemicals and modified organisms.

The purpose of the current paper was to refine the boundaries concept and to see how we are doing. It concluded that we have already trampled the first four boundaries and are endangering the remainder. “Human activities are destabilizing the global environment,” said the paper’s lead author, Will Steffen of the Australian National University. When exactly the system will become destabilized, putting the entire human population in dire peril, cannot be estimated with certainty but Steffen sees it happening, on the current course, in a time frame of “decades out to a century.”

Take that as the good news: the bad news is that MMEs — mass mortality events — are on the rise around the world. They key word here is mass: we’re talking about events in which at least a  billion animals die, more than 90% of an existing population, leaving 700 million tons of corpses. Believe it or not, there have been 727 such events recorded since 1940. And a survey of those events finds that they are increasing in frequency for birds, marine invertebrates and fish, while remaining constant for mammals and decreasing for reptiles and amphibians.

What are we to make of such science? Most of our brethren and, um, cistern will ignore it, as they do any science not headlined “miracle weight loss without effort.” Some of us, a decided but growing minority, will take it as further evidence of a coming collapse of the industrial age. And of that minority, a minority (Guy McPherson being a prominent example) believes that what is coming is an extinction of the human race.

I will not go that far. Not because I think I have superior scientific knowledge (than Dr. McPherson? Get out!) or can prove one case or another, but for two reasons that satisfy me.

  1. It is not useful to me to believe that all humans are going to die, or the planet is going to fry, or the sun is going to explode. So I refuse to believe it. Now, that may be as maddening in its way as the refusal of right wingers to believe in climate change despite all evidence to the contrary, simply because they don’t want to. But there is a difference. I don’t deny the possibility that Dr. McPherson et al may be right; I just prefer to act and plan and think while focussed on the possibility they may be wrong.
  2. It would be well to keep in mind, it seems to me, how wrong the scientists have been about the effects of climate change. They have consistently underestimated the speed and severity of its onset. It seems reasonable to expect them to be wrong in the future, as they try to quantify a staggering array of variables, and it does not seem reasonable to expect them to be wrong only on one side of the ledger. The two things humans have consistently underestimated is the amount of harm they are doing to natural systems, and the power of those systems to recover if we just quit doing the harm.

But all of this — the power to harm, the power to recover, the power to understand — has to bow down at present before the awesome power of stupidity in a culture that, having been told clearly and repeatedly that it is destroying the foundations of its existence, continues to do so.

On the Edge

May 15, 2014

Prof. Noam Chomsky, linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist and activist. (photo: Va Shiva)
Prof. Noam Chomsky, linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist and activist. (photo: Va Shiva)

By Noam Chomsky, Pen America

14 May 14


hen I hear the phrase “on the edge,” the irresistible image is the proverbial lemmings marching resolutely to the cliff.

For the first time in history, humans are now poised to destroy the prospects for decent existence, and much of life. The rate of species destruction today is at about the level of 65 million years ago, when a major catastrophe, probably a huge asteroid, ended the age of the dinosaurs, opening the way for mammals to proliferate. The difference is that today we are the asteroid, and the way will very likely be opened to beetles and bacteria when we have done our work.

Geologists break up the history of the planet into eras of relative stability. The Pleistocene, lasting several million years, was following by the Holocene about 10,000 years ago, coinciding with the human invention of agriculture. Today, many geologists add a new epoch, the Anthropocene, beginning with the industrial revolution, which has radically changed the natural world. In the light of the pace of change, one hates to think when the next epoch will begin, and what it will be.

One effect of the Anthropocene is the extraordinary rate of species extinction. Another is the threat to ourselves. No literate person can fail to be aware that we are facing a prospect of severe environmental disaster, with effects that are already detectable and that might become dire within a few generations if current tendencies are not reversed.

That is not all. For the past 70 years we have been living under the threat of instant and virtually total destruction, at our own hands. Those familiar with the shocking record, which continues until this day, will find it hard to contest the conclusions of General Lee Butler, the last commander of the Strategic Air Command, which has responsibility for nuclear weapons. He writes that we have so far survived the nuclear age “by some combination of skill, luck, and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion.” It is a near miracle that we have escaped destruction so far, and the longer we tempt fate, the less likely it is that we can hope for divine intervention to perpetuate the miracle.

We might wish to consider a remarkable paradox of the current era. There are some who are devoting serious efforts to avert impending disaster. In the lead are the most oppressed segments of the global population, those considered to be the most backward and primitive: the indigenous societies of the world, from First Nations in Canada, to aboriginals in Australia, to tribal people in India, and many others. In countries with influential indigenous populations, like Bolivia and Ecuador, there is by now legislative recognition of rights of nature. The government of Ecuador actually proposed to leave their supplies of oil in the ground, where they should be, if the rich countries would provide them development aid amounting to a small fraction of what they would sacrifice by not exploiting their oil resources. The rich countries refused.

While indigenous people are trying to avert the disaster, in sharp contrast, the race toward the cliff is led by the most advanced, educated, wealthy, and privileged societies of the world, primarily North America.

There is now much exuberance in the United States about “100 years of energy independence” as we become “the Saudi Arabia of the next century.” One might take a speech of President Obama’s two years ago to be an eloquent death-knell for the species. He proclaimed with pride, to ample applause, that “Now, under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years. That’s important to know. Over the last three years, I’ve directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We’re opening up more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore. We’ve quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth and then some.”

The applause tells us something important about our social and moral malaise. The President was speaking in Cushing Oklahoma, an “oil town” as he announced in greeting his appreciative audience—in fact the oil town, described as “the most significant trading hub for crude oil in North America.” And industry profits are sure to be secured as “producing more oil and gas here at home” will continue to be “a critical part” of energy strategy, as the President promised.

A few days ago the New York Times had an energy supplement, 8 pages of mostly euphoria about the bright future for the US, poised to be the world’s greatest producer of fossil fuels. Missing is any reflection of what kind of world we are exuberantly creating. One might recall Orwell’s observations in his (unpublished) introduction to Animal Farm on how in free England, unpopular ideas can be suppressed without the use of force, not least because immersion in the elite culture instills the understanding that there are certain things “it wouldn’t do to say”—or even to think.

In the moral calculus of currently prevailing state capitalism, profits and bonuses in the next quarter greatly outweigh concern for the welfare of one’s grandchildren, and since these are institutional maladies, they will not be easy to overcome. While much remains uncertain, we can assure ourselves, with fair confidence, that future generations will not forgive us our silence and apathy.


Coming Soon: This Planet Will No Longer Support Civilization

April 27, 2014
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Originally posted

Dr. Jill Stein on Capitalism, the most important question of the climate struggle, and just how long we have before the planet will no longer support civilization.

Days before the Earth Day to May Day Global Climate Convergence kicked off, Dr. Jill Stein talked with Dennis Trainor, Jr. of Acronym TV in a wide-ranging conversation about her hopes for the Convergence, a first response to ShowTime’s new series Years of Living Dangerously, and why the Climate Justice movement is all about jobs.

Check out these short clips below, or watch the full episode here.

Are Capitalism and Climate Justice Compatible? 

The Most Important Climate Issue We Face 

Coming Soon: This Planet Will No Longer Support Civilization 

According the Global Climate Convergence website:

“The Global Climate Convergence is an education and direct action campaign that begins this spring, with “10 days to change course,” running from Earth Day to May Day. It builds collaboration across national borders and fronts of struggle to harness the transformative power we already possess as a thousand separate movements springing up across the planet. Earth Day-to-May Day 2014 (April 22 – May 1) will be the first in a series of expanding annual actions.

As you know, the movement for democracy and justice is sweeping the globe — from democracy revolutions to occupy protests, movements for the rights of workers, students, immigrants, women and Indigenous peoples; resistance to NSA spying, endless war, prison pipelines, tar sands, fracking, nuclear power, GMOs and more. The accelerating climate disaster — now predicted to dismantle civilization as we know it as soon as 2050 – intensifies all these struggles, and provides new urgency for collaboration and unified action. Clearly there is no time to lose.

The Convergence calls for a solution as big as the crisis barreling down on us — an emergency green economic transformation, including full employment and living wages; 100 percent clean renewable energy by 2030; universal free health care and education; food and housing security; an end to deportations and mass incarceration; economic and political democracy; demilitarization; ecosystem restoration and support for the rights of Mother Earth; and more.

These goals will only be achieved by masses of people coming together in a unified movement, which is exactly what the Convergence is working towards!”

Dead Earth
(image by Asher Platts,

Tags Climate Crisis, Global Warming, Climate Catastrophe, Capitalism, Sea levels, Years of Living Dangerously, Global Climate Convergence, Jill Stein, Green Shadow Cabinet, Dennis Trainor Jr, Acronym TV

Dennis Trainor, Jr. is the creator and host of Acronym TV and the writer, director and producer of the documentary American Autumn: an Occudoc.
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The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.

On Earth Day, 20 Gorgeous Photos Of Natural Wonders Under Threat

April 23, 2014
Posted: 04/22/2014 9:00 am EDT Updated: 04/22/2014 3:59 pm EDT

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April 22 marks Earth Day, the annual U.N.-sponsored event to celebrate the planet and raise awareness of the impact that humanity has on the natural world. As people and governments across the globe honor the date, The WorldPost looks into some of Earth’s wonders that face destruction at the hands of men. Take a look at the images below and expand your knowledge of these natural treasures in peril.

1. Virunga National Park

Africa’s most diverse park is home to rare mountain gorillas and a series of active volcanoes. Oil exploration and the ongoing brutal conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo currently pose dire threats to the park’s survival.

(Brent Stirton via Getty Images)


(Steve Terill/AFP/Getty Images)

2. Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System

The idyllic stretch of waters is home to an ecosystem that includes threatened species such as manatees and crocodiles. Excessive development and illegal hunting currently imperil the natural balance of the reef.

belize barrier reef
(AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach)

belize reef
(AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach)

3. The Marshall Islands

The tiny, stunning atolls that make up the Marshall Islands are very close to sea level, which makes them particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The photo below was made during recent flooding that drove thousands from their homes.

(Giff Johnson/AFP/Getty Images)

marshall islands
(Yuri Cortez//AFP/Getty Images)

4. Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra

This 2.5 million hectare rainforest in Indonesia is home to a wealth of biodiversity, including endangered Sumatran orangutans. Logging and illegal poaching are a few of the dangers the park is faced with.

sumatra rainforest
(Romea Gacad/AFP/Getty Images)

sumatra rainforest
(Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

5. Mount Kilimanjaro

Immortalized by Hemingway, the crown of Africa’s highest mountain could fade into memory within a few short decades.Studies indicate that the iconic snows of Mount Kilimanjaro are falling victim to rising temperatures brought on by climate change. The second photo shows some of the peak’s melting ice caps.

kilimanjaro snow
(Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images

kilimanjaro snow
(Sisse Brimberg and Cotton Coulson/Getty Images)

6. Bamiyan Valley

Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Valley is a majestic UNESCO World Heritage Site that has sadly been ravaged by the nation’s lengthy war, leaving areas of it inaccessible due to antipersonnel mines.

bamiyan valley
(Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images

bamiyan valley
(Massoud Hossaini//AFP/Getty Images)

7. The Florida Everglades

The degradation of the Everglades as a result of development and reduced water flows has resulted in a reduction of the animal life in the sprawling park and put it under threat of further decline.

(Joe Raedle/Getty Images>

(AP Photo/Julie Fletcher)

8. The Dead Sea

With its salted waters and extremely low elevation, the Dead Sea is another natural wonder that sadly seems to be slowly receding into nothingness. Lack of water flow is causing the waters to dry up and the sea to shrink at threatening rates. A proposed water pipeline to replenish the sea has been agreed upon, but there are worries that it might further upset the natural balance of the region.

dead sea israel
(Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images)

dead sea israel
(Pavel Kassin/Kommersant Photo via Getty Images)

9. Madagascar’s Rainforest

The unique flora and fauna of Madagascar’s rainforest have made the island a naturalists’ dream for centuries, but as deforestation increases, the threat of destruction of habitat looms larger than ever.

madagascar rainforest
(Nick Garbutt/Barcroft Media / Getty Images)

madagascar rainforest
(Nick Garbutt/Barcroft Media / Getty Images)

10. Air and Tenere National Park

Niger’s Air and Tenere National park is Africa’s largest protected area and home to a diverse ecosystem. Military conflict and unrest have long been threats to the gorgeous desert landscape of the park.

tenere reserve
(DEA / S. Amantini/De Agostini/Getty Images)

tenere reserve
(DEA / S. Amantini/De Agostini/Getty Images)


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