Dispatches from Central Absurdistan

1. In yet another reason to keep those shows on the air, reality TV breeds new body ideals.

2. It’ll take a lot of rats to clothe plus-size models in the latest fashion accessory.

3. Encouraging us to keep the weight on, the American Heart Association endorses Nintendo’s Wii. Please put aside your shovel and turn on the TV.

4. Japan’s Prime Minister has put an ex-swimsuit model in charge of solving the problem of declining birthrate in that country. Ratcheting up planetary ecological overshoot is an idea whose time has come.

5. Also on the topic of objectifying women in the name of sex, Charlie Sheen has ensured one of the world’s stupidest television shows will remain on the air by settling for $2 million per 22-minute episode to play a misogynist adolescent. The new season will have to wait until he pays his dues for beating his wife and threatening to kill her. For his indiscretion, he’ll serve 30 days in jail (or, more likely, barely supervised community service).

6. Apparently trying his own hand at situational comedy, BP CEO Tony Hayward says BP is capturing a majority of the oil from the spill, as well as claiming the gusher is spilling only 10 million barrels of oil each day. The media play along, naturally.

7. It’s no wonder ethical investors include BP in their portfolios.

8. By now, we’re probably all aware who’s to blame for the ongoing disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s those pesky environmentalists, of course. Sarah Palin says so.

9. Last week’s article in the New York Times is yet another fine piece of journalism, considering the source. If the article had been written by a semi-literate 12-year-old, it might have warranted a passing grade in an American elementary school. The paternalistic piece of ass-wipe disguised as journalism quotes a single “prepper” and a single authority. The latter, Daniel Yergin, is the renowned energy optimist who believes crude oil emanates from a limitless, juicy nougat in the center of the planet. Even the title points the wrong direction: For the dozen or so of us who care about the living planet, we’re preparing for the best of times, not the worst.

Also last week, in a rare moment of introspection the Times asks whether we shouldn’t self-induce genocide. As if we’re not.

10. And, on the topic of genocide, self-proclaimed uber-environmentalist Bill McKibben is begging Barack Obama to resurrect our energy policy so we can keep propping up the omnicidal machine of civilization. McKibben is becoming increasingly desperate to finish the job of destroying the living planet on which we depend. With examples such as these, Sarah Palin seems right on the mark.

Comments 27

  • Bill McKibben is an idiot, 350 ppm will do little to reverse climate change, his goal should be 270 ppm to have any credibility.

  • Peter Singer – that aussie is hardcore, I dont know
    how he gets a gig in the US.

  • Guy,

    I did not read McKibben’s essay that way. In it I think he has made a call for Obama to stand up and lead. He clearly wants to see civilization continue forward, I suspect because he cares about people and the alternative is not so good. He does point out that the Kerry/Lieberman “bill” is crap. He points out that so far the administration has made all the wrong moves. He points out that Obama has gone out of his way to act as if he cares about what is happening but that it is only an act. He points out that the administration has castrated itself from the get-go by making deals for business as usual with big energy just like it did during the health care fiasco. He points out that at most the administration is calling for a 4% reduction in carbon emissions instead of the reductions he (McKibben) has advocated for in other writings. I don’t read that as “begging” but rather that he is pointing out that the disaster in the Gulf gives Obama the cover he needs to make the bold step that is necessary if only he has the balls to make that step.

    Michael Irving

  • Jerry Scovel,

    I think that McKibben has drawn the line at 350 because the best estimate of science shows that to be the “maximum” level at which climate approximates livable conditions for Homo sapiens worldwide. Would 280 be better? Sure. Is there any chance of reaching it without a 90 percent reduction in global population and complete destruction of all vestiges of civilization? No! Would he have any credibility if he demanded that? No, not in terms of mobilizing a movement to turn things around.

    McKibben has chosen to make a fight of it rather than sitting around wishing someone else would do something. You may be doing the same thing in your life. You may have better ideas and more workable solutions. If so, get them out there. Put yourself in the crosshairs so that anyone can take pot shots at you. Make the difference.

    Michael Irving

  • Michael,

    At 350 ppm the methane will still be released from the permafrost in quantities that will create a problem that we cannot solve. We know how to remove carbon from the atmosphere, we have no idea how to remove methane from the atmosphere.

    In 1963 I invented an orbiting solar furnace to create hydrogen fuel from seawater, the scientists told me that it would work but would be far too expensive to build. I was assured that climate change would not occur before 2100 and that they had everything figured out. I spent 35 years trying to get them to build it.

    About 20 years ago I came up with the idea that floating ocean islands would provide platforms where we could grow enough vegetation to reverse climate change. I have been trying to get the idea of man made islands accepted ever since.

    I have given up on saving the world and have begun construction of a tiny island for my girlfriend and myself to live on. Our island will be too small to reverse climate change but it will be large enough to keep us isolated from the horrors that will undoubtedly happen of land.

  • I have had opportunity to watch television several times recently, and now I better understand how television (now increasingly supplanted by internet, cellphone and digital “social networking” is facilitating the demise of humanity in many, many ways.

    For one thing, I am appalled at the human obesity that is omnipresent, even in weight loss commercials. Overweight people are often the models of weight loss, as if going from gross obesity to mild obesity is the goal. Unbelievable!

    The gross igorance of everything everywhere all the time is astounding! The oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico and the measured response of Barack Obama for cynical political purposes is only outweighed by gullibility of the Democrats. Who could believe the audacity of calculated outrage on the part of the completely inauthentic president!

    Bill McKibben in well-meaning, but offers essentially nothing of practical value. From looking at his latest book “Eaarth”, I think he knows the score but feels that he must moderate the message to appeal to anyone at all, which means that he benefits no one at all.

    Even Garrison Keillor, another person of conscience with a good heart and weak mind, essentially gave up hope in his last published essay/op ed.

    The relentless message of media is simply to consume more media, to socialize with more ignorant people, to celebrate “progress” towards collapse, and to pretend it ain’t happening.

    The financial mess continues to worsen as the pundits continue to think we are in another bust cycle. No one recognizes the Big Picture. No one realizes that the US is crashing and Europe is right behind.

    Perhaps it is all for the best. At least the plan to prevent panic is working perfectly so far. Even the Tea Party are not ready to panic, somehow thinking that their delusions (based on partial, myopic truths) are going to allow a return to the “good old days”.

    The worst thing I have seen in years is the old-covered seabirds and pelicans of Louisiana. And while Obama and BP say they are going to make it right, I see vast stretches of ocean, shoreline, marsh, etc. with no skimming, no scooping, no mitigation at all.

    Stan Moore

  • I don’t doubt McKibben means well. But until he starts doing something substantive, instead of cheering for continued economic growth and using civilization to protect the planet, I cannot support his “call” to “action.” The road to hell ….

    We’re currently at 387 ppm carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and we’re adding about 3 ppm/year. Carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere at least 1,000 years. Tack on methane, which admittedly has a shorter residence time than carbon dioxide, and we’re at the equivalent of 460 ppm carbon dioxide. James Hanson and many others conclude humanity cannot persist long beyond 350 ppm.

    And then there’s the dire nature of ecological overshoot. Every day in overshoot — apparently supported by McKibben — we add another 205,000 people to the planet. At this point, the only hope for saving the living planet on which we depend, and therefore the only hope for saving our species, is complete economic collapse. Are we human enough to pull it off? Can we get it done?

    Yes, we can.

  • Jerry Scovel,

    Sorry if it sounded like I was attacking you. I think I did suggest that you might be doing worthy work but that I had no way of knowing about it. As it turns out you have been floating (a touch of humor) some good ideas for a long time.

    What you say about 350 and methane is all true, and the weather this year reflects that. We have only been above 350 for about 20 years and the change in conditions started long before that. I think that McKibben and others are using that number as a symbol, and a good round number that is easy to remember helps in the PR campaign. Since we have only recently crossed that threshold, most adults can remember, “back when I was a kid” or “when I was younger,” things seemed okay. Of course they weren’t but if you didn’t know any better things seemed normal. So people can remember a time, pre-1990/pre-350+, when things seemed okay. Now they see changes, now things are different.

    It is easy to say, “Don’t give up now, we all have to put our shoulder to the wheel.” However, doing anything that seems to make one damn bit of difference is so immensely daunting that I try to celebrate people’s efforts, even if they produce no results other than raising awareness.

    Michael Irving

  • Guy,

    The road to hell … True.

    Regarding James Hanson, his statements are what McKibben is working with. In fact Jerry Scovel’s comments above speak to the fact that even at 350 we are well beyond where we need to be.

    As for overshoot, Hubbert’s curve, the Olduvai theory’s curve, and a graph of fruit fly populations in a bottle all look exactly the same. More than that I agree that we have been charging up the same kind of curve with population, oil use, water use, agricultural production, energy use, etc. and very soon we will have reached the top (if we have not already). The other side is best described by the line, “Oh the horrors!” I know you think economic collapse is all that will save our species and the earth. It may do that, but at what cost? Looking in that mirror is almost too much to face. Of course I’m convinced that our nature will not allow us to turn back from the abyss.

    Michael Irving

  • Michael,

    It is too late to build the orbiting solar furnace but there is still time to make the islands. Our landfills are full of the resources that we need and there are billions of people that need the work. The islands are low tech and inexpensive, with a dozen good workers and materials I could make an acre a day. I have the tools to keep a hundred people working around the clock. If you, or anyone in the group, believes that the islands are a good idea you are welcome to come to Osco, Ollinois and help build them.

  • Guy, Michael,

    Oddly enough, the way to stop the polluters is (ugh) more civilization, not less. Polluting the earth is profitable, if you want to stop them you have to undercut their prices for food, water and energy. As weeds and pests do not exist in the deep ocean the islands would not need GM crops and the pesticides and herbicides that go with them. The cost reduction from not using chemicals or expensive machinery to apply them would eventually drive agribusiness out of business.

    Pure water will soon be the most valuable resource on the planet and the ocean receives 71% of the rainfall. Rainfall collected from the oceans could irrigate the deserts without the saline problems associated with using river water. Water used for irrigation will fall as rain about four more times before reaching the ocean. Schemes to produce water by desalinization using coal and oil fired plants would just be far too expensive when compared to rain collection. Perhaps aqueducts to transfer the water from the melting arctic ice cap to the deserts would buy us a few more years to get the islands built.

    Windmills can be used on the same islands where crops are grown without sacrificing production. By producing low cost hydrogen on the ocean we could drive the coal, oil and gas companies out of business. The bad news is that producing the electric cars and plants to burn the hydrogen will increase industrial activity and might give us a false sense of security. One can imagine that humans will fill the last earthly frontier in a few generations and we will be right back where we are now.

  • Jerry:

    Actually we do know how to remove methane from the atmosphere. We wait. It has a half life of 7 years and eventually oxidizes into water and (yippee) more carbon dioxide.

    I wish you luck on your floating island. I’m a landlubber, myself, preferably with a mountain range between me and the rising seas. I’d be useless on one of your platforms.

    On a more general note:

    I tend to side with Michael on McKibben’s article. That’s not to say I don’t have a beef to pitch, most notably with McKibben’s use of 350 ppm. Once again, focus is directed on a single number. Climate change is driven by a gamut of forcings and feedbacks of which greenhouse gases (CO2, CH4, N2O, halocarbons) are but one component. I have yet to see where fixing a symptom fixes the problem.

    “Back when I was a kid,” global cooling was the big issue. I guess we did too good a job plugging that hole in the ozone layer.

  • Guy,
    I notice you touched, once again, on the population growth issue. I find it quite amazing that throughout the media, internet and all forms of publications, most so called ‘experts’ who seemingly have solutions for every crisis, from economic, political, environmental issues to the current problems in the Middle East. Yet no one seems to commentate on the fact that maybe the planet is a tad overcrowded. Throughout history different cultures, races and religous have co-existed with minimal anatagonism, however, recently if one turns on the news there appears to be conflict everywhere.
    The topic of overpopulation has been demonised through a highly successful propaganda campaign by ‘bleeding heart’ liberals over the last century, hiding behind the idea of human rights.
    The failure of these liberal orginisations to recognize that we live on a finite planet and by defending the rights of everyone without addressing the key issues of depleted resources has resulted in the precarious position we find ourselves in today.
    When collapse happens and if some predictions come true, like billions die as a result, then the blood is on their hands.
    And by the way, before anyone accuses me of being a conservative, reject the notion, as I am an apolitical naturalist.

  • Resa,

    Global cooling was NOT a big issue. That is a myth that many people say “oh yeah, I remember that,” due to fossil fuel funded PR machines. For a lot of people, it is no more than confabulation. Yes, there were some “popular” press articles suggesting global cooling as a problem, but even the minimal scientific literature that suggested cooling warned that increasing CO2 put that at risk.

    See
    http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/abs/10.1175/2008BAMS2370.1
    and
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2005/01/the-global-cooling-myth/

  • Resa,

    You are right about methane, it is the sheer volume of methane trapped in the tundra that will be a tipping point. Instead of CO2 rising 3 ppm a year it coiuld be as high as 20 ppm a year with the addition of methane.

    There would be no need for you to live on the islands to benefit from them. Refugees, the homeless and the poor would jump at the chance to take your place.

    The islands would cool the sea beneath them as well as provide a refuge for marine life. You are right that the islands will not cure all of the ills, the idea was designed to remove carbon from the atmosphere.

  • Jerry:

    My apologies for being so dense. It’s taken me a while, but I see now, how yes, even as a landlubber, I DO benefit from your floating islands. Just had to get my brain wrapped around the concept differently.

    Jonsi:

    Agreed, all that global cooling of the 70s is today hyped as a myth, but I can tell you that back in the late 60s-early 70s, it was hyped as very real. And I can’t even blame it on American PR because I wasn’t living in the United States at the time. It was on the radio, in the newspapers, in the schools. (Alas, TV reception was the pits.) Of course, we didn’t have the Web back then, so we were pretty much at the mercy of ignorance.

    We have a better understanding of climate change today. Ironically, we still approach it with the same one-dimentionality we did back in the 70s. (BTW, I’m not disputing climate change isn’t occurring.)

    Craig (and Guy):

    I share your amazement concerning the lack of attention regarding overpopulation. Of course, back in the 70s (when we were still at 4 billion) it was a popular belief that by the time we approached 7 billion we’d ALL be starving. We’re not. Perhaps that has something to do with it. We haven’t yet reached the tipping point of the ability to feed.

  • Guy,
    This is off the point but….

    I was just reminded that one of the reasons we, in the United States, are clinging to the idea that our way of life is non-negotiable is fear. Fear on all sorts of levels but given our responses since 9-11, fear of the “other” is one of the driving forces. We can’t transition down to a lower level of energy dependency because that might put us in a position of inferiority. If we are not the most powerful country on the planet (read biggest bully on the block) then someone else is likely to kick our collective butts. This is especially problematic if you have gone out of your way to project your military and economic might onto every other country on the planet, friends and foes alike. So the US views every other country as a potential bigger, badder bully. We’re Number One remember and we would rather kill the planet than slip to number two.

    Michael Irving

  • Resa,

    No apology is needed, it is my communication skills that are lacking. I can repair almost anything but I am unable to explain how I repaired it.

    We have not reached the tipping point on the ability to feed due to the availability of cheap oil, when cheap oil is no longer available there will be a sharp drop in food production.

  • Jerry:

    Cheap oil is only one component of global food production. We have a tremendous amount of wastage built into our food supply chain. At $147 per barrel in 2008, we still out produced per acre. This year, at $72 per barrel, we’re on target to out-produce again. And then there’s genetically engineered, which yes, presently consumes our maize, soybean, oil, sugar beet, and cotton crops, but has yet to hit the grains in any large scale capacity. There’s still room for expansion. Until we hit a brick wall there’s little incentive to shrink the masses.

    Guy:

    I appreciate the links you place in your essays. They’ve taken me on some interesting journeys. Yesterday I stumbled upon a quote from Lee Raymond (ExxonMobile): “We all have a tremendous opportunity and a responsibility to improve the quality of life the world over. Virtually nothing is made without our energy and our products.” Shucks, I don’t even work for the oil industry and I’ve had that sentiment fed to me regularly.

  • The farming practices of the last 50 years have killed the worms, nematodes and nitrogen fixing bacteria in the soil, when oil is no longer available for fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides production will drop below 1940 levels (per acre).

  • “BP in Chapter 11 in about a month”, Matt Simmons,Fortune Magazine on-line article today,6/9/10.

    Double D

  • (sigh) Farming practices of the last 50 years have killed worms, nematodes and nitrogen-fixing bacteria, but they have not exterminated them. And as cynical and pessimistic as I am (and I rate up there with the worst), that gives me hope.

    I’ve been pulling ground out of commercial monocrop production for 15 years now (think decades of heavy pesticide, herbicide and synthetic fertilizer application). In the beginning, a spade of soil yielded little. I turn a spade of soil today and that same ground is teeming with worms, nematodes, and nitrogen-fixing bacteria. I did not bring in any of those critters. If they crawled in, they had to traverse 100s of acres of pesticide, herbicide and fungicide laden fields to get to my land. Thus far this Spring, I have stumbled upon a half dozen or so garter snakes. Big suckers–four plus feet or more in length–that have probably been around for a few years, but are only now attaining a size that makes them more difficult to hide. There was not a snake on my place when I bought it 16 years ago.

    The land that I removed from commercial use wasn’t dead. Today it is healthy and productive, although it will never be as productive as it was under artificial means. I’m at a point where that doesn’t bother me.

    I still have one field under commercial contract. I’ve considered pulling it out, and may do so in a year or two. Transitions are labor intensive, however, especially in the beginning, and I just don’t have the time to invest right now.

    So, Jerry, I understand what you’re saying, but I’ve also seen what can happen.

  • One of the local farmers went organic about ten years ago and it took three years before the worms that he introduced could live in the soil. Three years may not seem like a long time but for those three years he had to plow under legumes and the land was out of production. We exist with a ten day supply of food in reserve and taking that much land out of production, for that long, will reduce the population by a few billion people.

  • Jerry:

    (At the risk of opening a can of worms) I have to ask. What source(s) are you using to substantiate a 10-day food supply?

  • This site http://www.energybulletin.net/node/21736 claims 57 days but does not take into account the private sale of corn to ethanol plants. There are four trainloads of corn going through the local plant every day. There are thousands of these plants throughout the midwest. Biodiesel is also draining the bean reserves as farmers are making their own diesel fuel to cut fuel costs. You are a farmer so you must see this in your area too.

  • In addition to stating that only 74 % believes in global warming, down from 84% a couple of years ago, today the latest Stanford poll gives us the following information about our fellow countrymen:

    86 percent of respondents said they wanted the federal government to limit the amount of air pollution businesses emit;
    78 percent opposed taxes on electricity to reduce consumption, and 72 percent opposed taxes on gasoline;
    84 percent favored the federal government offering tax breaks to encourage utilities to use more alternative energy sources, such as making electricity from water, wind and solar power;
    4 out of 5 respondents favored the government requiring or offering tax breaks to encourage the production of cars that use less gas (81 percent), appliances that use less electricity (80 percent) and homes and office buildings that require less energy to heat and cool (80 percent);
    And only 14 percent said that the United States should not take action to combat global warming unless other major industrial countries, such as China and India, do so as well.

    We are well and truly screwed.

    Michael Irving

  • Thanks, Jerry. I’ve had that 10-day food reserve figure tossed at me before, but always in passing and without access to the source. Your inclusion of a weblink was most helpful.

    My comments:

    1. The Energy Bulletin article was written in 2006 based on 2004-2005 data. That doesn’t make the information wrong, after all every piece of data ever collected has been based on a snapshot in time. It does date the information, however, although I overlooked that element within the context of the article.

    2. The article did lose validity, however, once I read: “We now get through five billion hoofed animals and fourteen billion poultry a year, and it takes slightly over a third of all our grain to feed them.” For starters, to consume five billion hoofed animals per year we’d have to eat every ass, camel, cow, goat, horse, mule, alpaca, llama, yak, pig, sheep and water buffalo on the face of the earth (which means no breeding stock to carry through to the following year) PLUS resurrect a half billion or so carcasses from the dead. The 14 billion poultry (chicken, duck, goose, and turkey) figure is at least plausible, although again, with a remaining global population of 4 billion birds to carry forward, we wouldn’t be enjoying poultry for long.

    3. The article states: “… the average corn yield in the US reached a record 8.4 tonnes per hectare in 1994, and has since fallen back significantly.” Going through my sources (and running the calculations) I come up with an approximate average corn yield in the US of 10.6 tonnes per hectare for 2008 (much of that gain, I suspect, due to GM seed, which made up 75% of the 2008 harvest.)

    4. On the bright side, the article did list its data source as the United Nations Food and Agriculture database, which is one of the sources I review when putting information together. We’re on the same page there although (obviously) our methods of calculation are different.

    5. The latest FAO (June 2010) “Food Outlook” and (May 2010) “Crop Prospects and Food Situation” reports are available online if you are interested. Click the http://www.fao.org link at the bottom of your Energy Bulletin article and then once the webpage appears, click on the PDF icon adjacent to the “Food Outlook, June 2010” article item. The “Crop Prospects and Food Situation” report can be accessed from the left-hand menu under “Publications.” Global food stock reserves have improved since the low of 2004-2005 for most major crops.

    6. (double sigh) As a member of the agriculture community, I do see a lot of things. Ironically, those same things aren’t always reflected on par among other industry sectors.