Letters to Readers
Where to Get It
Youth Futures: 2012 and Beyond
Starting in 2012, this space will present updates to the book Standing on Your Own Two Feet: Young Adults Surviving 2012 and Beyond, which is a free book for all young adults. Short corrections will be incorporated into the book as soon as possible, but most additions and supplements will be found only here.
Theories of how to manipulate society have brought us to the brink of disaster.
11 June 2017: The Short Fuse?
Last year, the floating Arctic icecap began some very strange behavior. It started in the spring, but was interrupted by a cool, cloudy summer. As one scientist put it, "The Arctic just dodged a bullet." By fall, the strangeness was back, with both area and volume far below anything we had ever before seen at that time of year. Very similar events were taking place in the seas around Antarctica.
Now, as the Arctic enters another summer melting season, it is poised to do something that ranges from impressive to catastrophic. Breaking it down into 4 possibilities, 2 probable and 1 improbable on each end:
1. Improbable: The Arctic has an extremely cold summer, which is almost impossible given current air and water temperatures. But if that happened, the ice volume would merely tie with the previous record low, set in September 2012, of about 3700 cubic kilometers (km3).
2. Probable on the high side: The Arctic icecap will set an impressive new record low volume in September 2017 of 3000 km3 or less.
3. Probable on the low side: All of the thin (first-year) ice in the Arctic will completely melt, leaving only the blob of multi-year ice that is sitting north of Greenland right now. This would result in a catastrophic new record low of something like 1000 km3.
4. Improbable (I hope): The blob melts too. The only remaining ice would be little piles in the nooks and crevices of northern Canada and Greenland, bringing the total volume to nearly zero.
Now for the big question, the question about this situation being a "short fuse" or not.
Will the open blue water in the Arctic, during the remainder of this summer, be great enough in area to soak up enough energy from the sun to raise the water temperature enough to sublimate the Methane hydrates on the Arctic Ocean floor?
If I had to guess, I would place this event between numbers 2 and 3 of the possibilities listed above. In other words, there is a good change it could happen this year. I could be wrong. It could happen between numbers 1 and 2, meaning that it would almost definitely happen this year.
This would light the fuse as early as this summer.
Sublimation is when a solid changes directly into a gas, without going through a liquid phase. This would probably happen most quickly in the shallow Arctic seas north of Europe and Asia. Methane hydrates are a compound of Methane ("natural gas") that is stable at very low temperatures, but changes back into gaseous Methane when the temperature gets too high. Methane is about a hundred times as powerful as Carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.
Methane hydrates on the Arctic Ocean floor started sublimating slowly in about 2007. Scientists who study this process believe there will come a point in the rising temperature of the Arctic Ocean when at least 50 billion metric tons (Gt) of Methane will be suddenly released. That's about 10 times as much Methane as is already in the atmosphere.
It is not easy to calculate what effect a 50 Gt Methane release would have on global temperatures. I have found estimates by scientists of 1.1°C and 1.3°C. This is in addition to the 1.0-1.5°C (depending on when you start counting) of global warming that has already taken place.
The fuse is burning, and it's only late 2017, maybe early 2018.
The next part of the "fuse" is probably the most critical, as it will mean the difference between all this being merely interesting, and it being catastrophic for humans.
Can our complex, mechanized, chemical-fertilized agricultural systems still function well with a sudden global temperature rise of 1.1-1.3°C?
The answer, according to the few scientists who dare to ask this question, is "probably not." This opinion cannot be proven or disproven. It has never happened before, and is difficult to model. Our agricultural systems were developed when the global temperature ranged from about 13°C to about 14°C. It is now 14.7°C, and would be 15.8-16.0°C after the 50 Gt Methane release. We'll just have to wait and see what is on the grocery shelves, and at what price, after this happens.
The fuse keeps burning. It's 2018, maybe 2019.
A collapse of our agricultural systems would immediately result in the collapse of our financial and commercial systems. This would cause most factories and other sources of pollution to shut down. Those factories are currently helping to cool the Earth with their pollution. Scientists estimate that if our factories shut down, the Earth would experience a rapid 2.5-3.0°C increase of global heat.
That brings us to somewhere between 18°C and 19°C. Other climate mechanisms and feedbacks would be pushing the global temperature even higher, possibly into the neighborhood of 23°C. This is called "run-away climate change."
Somewhere in this process, Greenland and Antarctica will give up their ice, raising the seas up to 260 feet.
We do not know exactly when in this process human civilization will fail. Political collapse will result in fragmentation, social collapse will bring isolation. Small, flexible groups will certainly last longer.
I have hinted at a very rapid timetable for this process, as that now looks possible, perhaps even probable. It could also happen more slowly. Even if all this took a hundred years, that would still be amazingly fast as planetary changes go.
What will you be doing while the "fuse" is burning?
There are none so Blind as those who will not See.
16 May 2017: Our Giant Canoe
This excellent analogy is part of a recent article by Chris Martenson.
Think of our situation as if humanity were all together in a giant canoe and nearly everybody is paddling as hard as they can. After all, we're trying to get somewhere: to improve ourselves, to grow our economy and increase our prosperity. There are goals to be met!
Along the way we've convinced ourselves that this canoe is the best one ever built and it cannot fail us. It is the very pinnacle of achievement. It looks great, and there are creature comforts and pleasant distractions galore. Food has never been more abundant or easier to obtain, new gadgets keep showing up, and (in theory, at least) you can determine for yourself where you want to sit in the canoe.
The people in the front love being there, as they feel powerful and in control. Ironically, though, it's the few people in the stern who are actually secretly and rather effortlessly steering, but nobody in the rest of the canoe seems to notice or care.
There's only one thing wrong with this canoe. It's headed for a gigantic waterfall, and if it tips over the lip, very few will survive. It will be like going over Niagara Falls without a barrel.
A few in the canoe have woken up and noticed this. But their protests are limited to either pulling their paddles out of the water and refusing to propel the canoe any faster, or even trying to futilely paddle backwards against the rest of humanity's combined efforts.
Neither approach is a solution, mind you. But at least for these 'awake' souls, it feels better than paddling mindlessly towards the roaring falls.
As it stand today, humanity's canoe is destined to speed right over the edge. Unless we consciously do something about it. Which we could, if we really wanted to.
As there's nothing preventing us from steering the canoe safely to land, I find this one of the most interesting and fascinating times to be alive. We are currently playing the role of our own destroyer, but the savior role is still there for the choosing.
But what stops us? What keeps us paddling furiously ahead even as the sound of the roaring falls gets louder and louder? The answer is at once both very simple and devilishly hard.
It's our egos.
To save ourselves from ourselves, we have to begin doing things very, very differently. Truthfully, the only way we can save ourselves is to shift our consciousness.
JZC: As best I can tell, shifts in consciousness, although never easy, are most possible for individuals, and very difficult, verging on impossible, for groups of any size.
If you can't explain something in one simple sentence, it's a bad idea.
5 April 2017: Our psychological need for World War III
All creatures are able to sense when something is seriously wrong with their environments. I am referring to environmental problems that are broad in space and/or deep in time, not those that can be dealt with by a short journey or a brief period of hunkering down, which happen to all creatures all the time.
This awareness probably works on the purely instinctual, unconscious level for all plants and most animals.
The responses to threats to the environment vary greatly from creature to creature. Plants can't migrate to a different environment, but they can speed up or slow down metabolic and maturational processes, and sometimes engage reproductive steps at an abnormal time.
Animals have many more options, including migration, hibernation, and environmental modification through various kinds of home building. One extreme measure that animal species sometimes use is mass suicide, seemingly prompted by an unconscious awareness that a few individuals will have a better chance of surviving if there is less competition for resources.
Although I stay as far away from politics as I can, I can't help being amazed at the pro-war rhetoric that is currently running wild. I tend to look for a psychological explanation.
Over the last half century, the awareness has crept into just about every human mind on the planet that there is some kind of problem with the environment. For about half, maybe 2/3 of that time, that awareness has focused on a series of isolated problems: an over-fished lake here, a polluted river there, dirty air over that city, etc.
More recently, an over-all theme has emerged: Climate Change, a.k.a. Global Warming. Our environmental "problem" is no longer about little, isolated, unconnected issues. The word "global" tells us all we need to know about the breadth of it. The term "climate change" implies its depth in time -- most of us intuitively know that a "climate" is huge, and just doesn't change very quickly, and when it does, doesn't cease changing easily. "Warming" give us the direction, without any hint of it being a two-way trip.
So the awareness of a major problem with our environment is there, consciously in some people, intuitively in many more. What is our collective human response?
Publicly, most of us love life, especially people. We negotiate for diplomatic solutions to political problems. We pour money into the medical profession to cure diseases, fix injuries, and extend life. We don't like abortions, even though we balance that feeling with our love of freedom.
Privately, we are drawn to conflict, war, blood, and gore. Conflict, in some form, is an essential part of any fictional story, and no novel gets published, or made into a movie, without plenty of it. The more conflict and gore, the more copies or tickets sold.
But now we are face to face with Climate Change and a possible bottleneck through which our huge global population (7+ billion) may not be able to pass. We are also aware that little wars, like Vietnam and Iraq, don't affect our global population very much. Terrorist actions affect it even less. What can we do?
If we were actually conscious of being in this situation, and KNEW we had to reduce our population quickly (or Climate Change would do it for us), the most efficient thing we could do, to accomplish the necessary reduction, would be to pick a fight with the other nation that has about as many nuclear weapons as we do. We could start blaming EVERYTHING on that nation. We could demonize its leaders. We could carefully tailor the news so that everything the other country does is evil, and everything we do is great (even when it's exactly the same).
Official studies estimate that the electro-magnetic pulses that nuclear weapons cause, even without any bomb or fallout damage, would bring about a 90% reduction in population in the developed world. It would be messy, and take about a year, as the real causes of death would be starvation and disease.
If we prefer a quicker, cleaner, deeper solution, and add actual bomb damage to our cities, and radioactive fallout over large areas, we can bring the total fatalities up to 99%, 99.9%, 99.99%, or whatever seems best.
Of course, no one will admit to consciously thinking these thoughts and making these plans. But I just can't think of any other reason for the mounting pro-war rhetoric we see and hear constantly these days. Whether it's conscious or unconscious makes no difference -- the result is the same.
You have to decide whether to look like an idiot before the crash or an idiot after it.
14 March 2017: Shades of Swans
In recent years, as predicting the future course of our human civilzation has become more and more important, the colors of swans have become a way of expressing some things about those predictions. This happened because of a funny story: It was long believed that all swans were white. Then someone discovered a few black swans in Australia. Suddenly, all sayings about swan colors had to be re-thought and re-worded.
White swans are very common. They are the normal, expected color for swans. White Swan Events are those we can easily predict, and we are usually right. The sun will come up tomorrow. Taxes have to be paid. Politicians lie.
Black swans are very rare, and in most places, non-existent. According to Nassim Taleb, the first person to use the term in a published book, Black Swan Events are those events that (1) are unpredictable, (2) have a large impact, and (3) after they happen, we act like we could have predicted it all along (to "save face").
Although it's probably true most of the time, I'm not sure number (3) is a necessary part of the definition.
Some examples of Black Swan Events are earthquakes, asteroid strikes, volcanic eruptions, political assinations, and some scientific discoveries. Some of these can be seen coming shortly before they arrive, but are usually completely hidden from us until they are very close.
People who try to peer into the future also recognize that there are Gray Swan Events, not completely predictable, and not completely unexpected. In recent decades, it seems to me, more and more things have been falling into this category. Triggers that used to faithfully predict certain future events, now often pass by without anything happening. But also there are new triggers that are causing ripples into the future, triggers that would have caused us to merely yawn not long ago.
At this time, the slow, steady march of Climate Change has become THE White Swan Event. Although many details about it are still unknown to us, it has become THE reliable, unavoidable fact of the 21st century.
Although little wars are almost always going on, World War 3 is some shade of a Gray Swan Event. Some of the things that triggered past wars, even world wars, have come and gone without effect. New possible world-war triggers are everywhere. As I write this, I can count 9 places in the world where World War 3 might start.
Financial Collapse, leading quickly to Commercial Collapse, is also some shade of Gray. It is known from history that great debt leads to collapse. We keep piling up more debt, and nothing happens. Yet.
Pandemic Plague is another Gray Swan Event. We know we have a highly-mobile civilization that can spread any disease to the entire world very quickly. The right germ just hasn't come along, with just the right qualities, to take advantage of that situation. Yet.
The usual Black Swan Events are still possible, of course. Coronal Mass Ejection. Asteroid or comet. You know the list.
Keep your eyes open for swans of all shades!
... when it changes it does so quickly, and the impossible becomes the inevitable without ever having been probable.
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