The Great Reset

Written by
Aaron YR

The Great Reset

Written by
Aaron YR

The Great Reset

Written by
Aaron YR
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Introduction

Unless you've been living in a cave... on Mars... you've heard some stuttering ramble about climate change and how it's going to run away and ruin life on earth. Here's the truth about a few things, and it'll be followed by one of our longest, most thorough articles to date. 

We know this isn't for everyone, and that's fine, but if you're ready to try and tread water in the deep end, we offer it up for your consideration. If you choose to read on, be advised that the information contained herein will very likely challenge some of your beliefs. We always welcome peer review, and if we present a scientific argument, you're more than welcome to contact us with any rebuttals you may have. Please be courteous, and site sources.

Bottom Line Up Front

  • Climates change. Period.
  • Climatology is drawing on a very short period of history. About 120 years, in 30 year increments. The earth is believed to be ~4,000,000,000 years old. Do you feel comfortable using that slice of information to make a continuity forecast about life on earth?
  • What we need to discuss is "what was the climate's predominant trend BEFORE humans, and at what pace was it moving?", which allows us to ask:
  • "How fast is it moving now, and in what direction?"

These papers were originally written in 2016, and will likely spark controversy. However, if the source material, scientific principles, and and anthropology is correct, I believe we can draw the following conclusion:

We live in a "gilded age" in terms of climate. This period (the Holocene Interglacial Period) was marked by a very mild climate, which allowed humans to understand agriculture and ultimately discover oil. We can't expect the availability of that resource or the climate to remain in stasis, which means things will change, and likely for the worse. The timeline of that change however, is extremely long and we would be wise to set our energy and direction to building an enduring culture while we can.

The Long Version: Into the deep water

PART I

This work was compiled to assess the likely impacts of long term climate change on human populations, and explores evidence of H. Sapiens ability to survive within a high carbon environment based on historic proto-human societies and their relative success. The findings indicate that while humans themselves may be well equipped to live within an environment of upwards of 1000 ppm of Carbon Dioxide, the impact to ecosystems and biodiversity may present future problems.

INTRODUCTION

The topic of atmospheric carbon and its influence on temperature in the troposphere is a highly influential topic, both scientifically and politically. As humans depart the Cenozoic for the Anthropocene, the transition is marked by unanswered questions about the level of carbon within the atmosphere, how that carbon will influence the terrestrial temperature. However, unanswered questions regarding the impacts of the model derived CO2 levels remain: 

  • firstly, whether or not human beings are capable of living in a higher carbon environment,
  • how much heat will be present in this environment,
  • what are realistic expectations on when the positive feedback loop will end, and; 
  • why will it end?

The purpose of this research is to compare CO2 levels and their correspondence within heating in the troposphere in the Cenozoic time period, and to establish if the likely trends in global warming will result in a climate that is inhospitable for humans, and what challenges will likely be faced. 

 

BACKGROUND RESEARCH

The research conducted for this study was a composition of proxy data provided by a variety of geophysical sources, predominately USGS, NASA and NOAA. Research for this topic was done in phases, as the amalgamation of data was most useful when scrutinized in concert. Work was performed in three phases:

  1. The first step in conducting the research was to first assess the long-term historic levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide 
  2. Overlay the timeline in Phase 1 over the existence of humans or hominid ancestors. 
  3. Assess trends and timelines for the projected amount of carbon in the atmosphere based off forecast models developed and used by the IPCC to assess potential impacts of climate change on humans, and human environments. 

To emphasize the need for this study, it must be mentioned that the dialog regarding climate change has become highly politicized, and as such, information selected for dissemination to the public, and it’s interpretation, is largely done with the political agenda as the paramount. For example, Figure 1 below, produced by NOAA depicts the temperature over a 120-year period. 

This is a fine timeline, and represents the approximate amount of time humans have been keeping relatively accurate temperature records. However, the image has been used to discuss global warming. The X-axis fails to take into account that a significant amount of thermal anomalies have occurred as a result of heat islands, and the process of rounding up to the nearest whole degree in meteorological reporting (Moyer, 2015).

Figure 1: An image depicting Climate Change; How is this misleading? The late 1800's were known to host the Maunder Minimum, a period of cooling. This short-term trend should not be confused with much longer-term patterns in Climate. (NOAA, 2015)

Comparing the NOAA chart to the following, produced by Lisiecki, we can see that historically speaking, we are in what appears to be a completely natural cycle, albeit likely exacerbated by human CO2 emissions. 

‍Figure 2: An image of temperature over the last 800,000 years. (Lisiecki, 2010)

 

RESEARCH QUESTIONS

This work can be distilled into one, fairly straightforward research question:

“How much will climate change impact the planet?”

But that question encompasses a tremendous amount of data. Starting from the longest range and least reliable information, environmental proxy data measuringd-Carbon13, derived from a variety of sources (Lisiecki, 2010). These sources include Ice core samples, sea floor samples from the North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and were found to have a correlation coefficient average of 0.51, indicating a reasonable correlation between pCO2 (pressurized CO2) and atmospheric d-Carbon13 during the periods being evaluated (Lisiecki, 2010).

Figure 3: Correlation between carbon dioxide and tropospheric heating, not for 120 years, but for 800,000 years. (Lisiecki, 2010)

While some margin for error exists with any proxy data, these findings, even with a significant margin of error give enough footing to suppose that the levels of pCO2 during these respective eras is somewhat accurate. The findings by Lisiecki and Scotese indicate that while current atmospheric CO2 levels are at highs in comparison to the last several hundred-thousand years, they have not, as NASA claims “hit a new high”. Nasa goes on to say:

“To some, crossing the threshold of 400 ppm is a signal that we are now firmly seated in the ‘Anthropocene’” a human epoch where people are having major and lasting impacts on the planet. Because of the long lifetime of CO2, to others it means we are marching inexorably towards a “point of no return,” into territory that is unknown for the human race.”(NASA, 2015)

Is this true? 

It depends on how you define “human”, and this is of critical importance if we are to objectively measure the impacts of carbon, and higher aggregate surface temperatures and their effect on humans. 

METHODS

The methods used in producing this research were predominately focused on compiling information sourced from scientific papers, peer reviewed sources, government organizations and organizations devoted to anthropological study. Quantitate analysis was done by establishing baseline figures for CO2 and temperature across a timeline of approximately 6 million years. 

Data was scrutinized for consistency and viewed objectively to discern potential impacts to human survivability during carboniferous periods, as well as to ascertain the compatibility of human beings with a carboniferous environment. Data regarding heating and carbon was interrogated for relationship, which was empirically shown to be positively correlated. When CO2 amounts increased, heat followed this trend.The IPCC, and indeed, many others have written a great deal on the relationship between atmospheric CO2 and heating (IPCC, 2007), and it is well established that there is a positive correlation between the two. 

The intersection between these two issues; increased carbon and heat and the human susceptibility to such heat, has been a cause for great concern, and rightfully so. Few of us could imagine a world in which average temperatures were several degrees centigrade hotter than they are now. Homo Sapiens has never known such a world… however, humanoids have been around for much longer than homo sapiens, who are a mere 200,000 years old (King, 2012). 

Proto-humans and hominid ancestors have been around for between 2.5-7 million years, and it is with this timeline that we can begin to make some deductions about the effects of climate on our species. The methods in this study revolved around answering the three following questions:

Question 1: How old is the genus “homo”? 

According to anthropologists, the evolutionary line that brought us to this paper began around 2.5 million years ago, in the late Pliocene. The imagine provided shows that around this time, the skulls of our ancestors began looking quite familiar, and indeed, many of the traits we claim as uniquely human were beginning to appear; the use of tools, mastery of fire, and hunter gatherer tribal societies were emerging (King, 2012). 

While fascinating, this information is taken in conjunction with proxy data to make sense of how climate may impact humans. Physiologically, humans today and proto-human ancestors shared a significant amount of common features (King, 2012). We have common internal organs, sensory and reproductive systems, and digital orientation. Early hominids appeared between 6 and 7 million years ago, and existed during a period of extremely high carbon (1000-3000 CO2ppm). While obvious evolutionary changes have taken place, sufficient evidence exists in the fossil record to illustrate that hominids can survive at carbons levels in that range (University of Waikato, 2015).

Figure 4: Open Source Image of Hominid Evolution

Question 2: How much carbon existed in the atmosphere over the hominid’s life history?

A look at the temperature and atmospheric CO2 over the last 4.6 billion years illustrates that since the Pliocene, shows that hominids can, and have existed, during periods of both higher average temperature and CO2 concentrations (Scotese, 2002). In all likelihood, periods of high carbon will have far greater impact on the survivability of tropical flora, and reptiles, which flourished during carboniferous periods in the past (University of Waikato, 2015). As well, many species in artic and sub-arctic habitats may face extinction (Riebeek, 2011). However, hominids displayed no anthropological inability to adapt to a carboniferous environment, but it should also be mentioned that while hominids existed, their capacity for thought, their social structure and their social complexity was drastically lower than what we know as modern Homo Sapiens. 

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The RCP Database illustrates the forecast amount of emissions will bring the total carbon in the atmosphere from its current 398 ppm (NASA, 2015) to an amount between ~425 ppm, to high estimates of ~1350ppm. Clearly, from a geological standpoint, these amounts are not “uncharted territory” as stated by NASA, nor is it likely that this is a “point of no return” (NASA, 2015). However, for Homo sapiens, this will be a new, and potentially hazardous event. 

‍Figure 5: Forecast greenhouse gas concentrations in Carbon Dioxide Equivalent; (Environmental Protection Agency, 2015)

Question 3: What did hominid civilizations look like, and what was the population of hominids during these periods? 

Stated another way: Can the earth support the human population at its present density in carboniferous periods?

This question is difficult to answer, because unlike Carbon or Oxygen, for which there is proxy data, there is no explicit indication that can plot a quantitative value on the size of the human population over the timeline interrogated here. It is widely held amongst Anthropologists that the human, and hominid populations were very unlikely to have grown large, due to the environmental pressures, high infant mortality rates, significantly lower life expectancy and lack of medical knowledge (University of Michigan, 2006). It is assumed for these reasons, that the human population before approximately 10,000 BCE was at equilibrium from between 2 million years ago until ~ 10,000 BCE, at which time the human population was believed to be between 2 and 10 million. 

‍Figure 6: World Population since 10,000BCE, Rosen, 201

RESULTS

The data sets scrutinized in this research suggest that human beings are likely well-suited to live in a high carbon environment from a physiological standpoint. There is no evidence that human physiology is insufficient to live at the temperatures likely to occur as climate change and natural climate cycles push global temperatures higher. The results of the data provided indicate that hominids, and indeed, members of the genus homo have existed during periods of comparable temperatures and CO2 densities.The significant findings were as follows:

1. Carbon increases have a strong correlation to temperature increases.

2. Extreme high temperature estimates from over the last 800,000 years range from around 4.2-5.8 degrees Celsius deviation from the mean. Extreme low temperature estimates range from around -9 to -10.3 degrees Celsius deviation during the same period. Carbon during this period did not exceed 300 ppm, as per the proxy data.

3. Proxy data indicates that feedback loops provide rapid accumulation of atmospheric carbon and subsequent heating, followed by a gradual decline to thermal minima, which coincide with ice ages. Global temperature trends indicate that the Holocene interglacial period should experience warming for another 15,000-20,000 years.

4. It is logically consistent that there is a point at which those feedback loops in point 3 deteriorate and negative feedback loops take hold, causing a decline in global average temperatures and a return to a glacial period. More research is needed to determine what mechanism may be in effect. 

5. Hominids and early humans can exist within carboniferous environments.

6. It is unlikely that humans will cause enough heating to place them in “uncharted territory”, geologically speaking.

7. The pressures of a high carbon environment may no longer favor humans (or mammals) as dominant species.

CONCLUSIONS

           While we may never know specifically how advanced our ancestors were during high carbon periods, we can take some comfort that human beings are physiologically equipped to deal with a high-carbon environment. Further research may question how and why pre-Sapiens evolution precluded advanced societies, and whether or not regression into more primitive living conditions would be the logical outflow of a higher carbon world. The research conducted here seems to suggest that while human beings are capable of existing within the likely range of environments, may other species required for human life may be less adequately equipped for such systemic shocks, which is of real concern. 

            Drops in population of phytoplankton, for example, could impact the food source for hundreds of millions of people, and as such, set upon human civilization in the classic, Darwinian fashion of “resource scarcity”; this, in and of itself, being a regulatory measure of natural populations. In addition, loss of species and arable land has been a consistent companion to human expansion, so it’s with reasonable confidence that science can assume that humans impact the populations of other species (McKinney, 2002).

            The study further concluded that while the upward trend in temperature may be part of a large natural process, burning of fossil fuels is almost certainly exacerbating this phenomenon. Further research should include the likely impacts of living in a high carbon, or carboniferous era and the implications it would have for advanced, technological societies, as such an event is, to our best knowledge, entirely unprecedented. 

PART II

            Fundamentally, environmental issues are about humans. Academic discourse creates a narrative of “nature, for nature’s sake”, but in Part II, I intend to make the case that the natural world will actually be stronger for every old growth tree cut, every white rhino vanishing from the face of the planet, and when the last panda dies in a zoo, nature will be more robust than it was before and finally, that changing climates are simply a regulatory mechanism to facilitate this phenomenon. This is an ugly, scar covered line of reasoning that should not be confused with either Brower’s “Strength through Exhaustion” fallacy (Brower, 1976), or Pollan’s argument that the future of nature is as a manicured lawn (Pollan, 2015). Instead, this entry aims to make the argument that sustainability is not equal to global homeostasis on terms that are favorable for humankind and it is superficial to make the argument that it is so.

 

The Earth, Our Climate

            In preparing to make this case, the first question likely to come up is regarding climate change. Authors, scientists, actors and politicians have all tossed their hats into the ring in defining climate change and its anthropogenic origins. 

A more perfect place, I've never seen.

            Let us distance ourselves from the microscale influence of the present, and observe the trends that have characterized this planet over many millions of years. In his work on Benthic Carbon13-proxy records, Lisiecki was able to infer historic levels of atmospheric CO2 over a period of around 800,000 years (Lisiecki, 2010). The late quaternary Cenozoic era, comprised of the Pleistocene and Holocene epochs, indicated a series of climate oscillations that featured a rapid rise to a thermal maxima, followed by a gradual decline into an ice age over periods of time between 20 and 80 thousand years (Lisiecki, 2010). At present, even with anthropogenic influences, Earth is still Earth; and Mr. McKibben might be surprised to find out that atmospheric carbon levels of between 1000-3000 ppm of CO2 have been features of Earth’s atmosphere for literally hundreds of millions of years. 

            Indeed, mammals and proto-hominids emerged some 6 million years ago amongst such drastic concentrations of CO2 and their associated heating (King, 2012; Lisiecki, 2010; Scotese, 2002). This is in contrast to assertions made by such authorities as NASA, who claimed that:

“To some, crossing the threshold of 400 ppm is a signal that we are now firmly seated in the “Anthropocene,” a human epoch where people are having major and lasting impacts on the planet. Because of the long lifetime of CO2, to others it means we are marching inexorably towards a “point of no return,” into territory that is unknown for the human race.”

      NASA, 2015

            It could be said that while 400 ppm is new for Homo sapiens, there is some compelling evidence that insists that not only can humans survive in carboniferous environments, we were borne from one. Climate Change, even accepting the most dire RCP8.5 emission pathway (NASA, 2015), will probably not scratch humankind off the planet entirely. With significantly less access to information, education and cranial vaults smaller than our Chimpanzee cousins managed, our ancestor cousins survived, and co-evolved with various primates and other mammals. 

What is truly at stake is the survival of human society as we know it, and that, is another matter entirely… even if few, if any, seem to notice.

 

Darwin, the Whale and Energy

            Charles Darwin made the case that species originated from successful ancestors. He further posited that these ancestors faced competition in terms of resources, finding mates, and that over time, they had been honed and sculpted by hardship to be uniquely able to survive in their given environment. 

            According to Dobzhansky, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution.” (Dobzhansky, 1973). While sensible, an aspect of evolution is easily overlooked: in a world in which conditions were in stasis, species would eventually appear, having been functionally perfected by eons of natural selection in the face of the Darwinian “struggle for existence” (Fowler, 2014). The cycle of selection pressure, differential reproductive success, variation of heredity, overproduction of offspring, and, perhaps most importantly resource scarcity, would persist only until they had become as effective at surviving as was possible. 

Those unable to provide for, or defend themselves, were likewise relegated to history’s infinite book of the dead.

            Such a world is impossible to imagine, and we have our changing world to thank for the evolutionary processes that brought us here. 200,000 years of infant mortality, death during childbirth, and vulnerability to disease have made such instances relatively rare. Ecological conditions, such as famine caused by desertification and destruction of habitat have driven populations to emigration, violence, and genocide (Dronin, 2004; BBC NEWS: AFRICA, 2011), even in modern times. Those unable to provide for, or defend themselves, were likewise relegated to history’s infinite book of the dead, particularly at times when populations exceed carrying capacity (University of Michigan, 2006). 

            While not so simple as all this (nor so grim, Kropotkin’s work “Mutual Aid: A factor of Evolution” illustrates nature’s symbiosis in a more positive light), we can say that humankind, having moved away 16 fold from it’s historic equilibrium of approximately 500,000,000 souls, is experiencing a dramatic episode of ‘overproduction of offspring’. Undoubtedly, such a tremendous increase – if seen in a population of coyotes, rats, locusts or predatory cats – would be seen as a major problem and an unsustainable population. Especially amongst large predators, populations generally remain small, confined by available food and clean water. How then, did humans grow to such a degree? 

            How and why is not an easy answer, but the simplest way of looking at it is this: we are at the right place at the right time. The whale carcass drifted right to us.

            In her essay, Amanda Mascarelli describes the process of a whale carcass coming to rest on the sea floor. These beasts deliver an amount of nutrients and stored energy to establish and provide for an ecosystem “that can last for decades” (Mascarelli, 2009). During this time, the amount of life around the fallen whale blooms; colonies of bacteria reproduce and multiply. They grow well in excess of their ability to sustain their population absent the bounty of the whale’s corpse, and give no thought to the plan for when it is gone. This essay will compare this phenomenon to the discovery of oil, and the world we now inhabit. The lesson here is that the ultimate need of all life on earth is energy: whether in the form of chemicals venting from cracks in some subterranean aquifer, sunlight for biosynthesis of organic molecules, or the complicated energy network that has brought us the establishment of complex human societies. 

            While this illustrates a logical anecdote, it isn’t without contention. In his essay “Overpopulation is Not the Problem, Erle Ellis argues that “current industrial technologies”, we can feed more than 9 billion people (Ellis, 2013). To Ellis, the Whale is massive, and no matter how many people are attempting to consume it, there will be plenty to go around. In his classic example of bacteria, Dr. Albert Bartlett refutes this claim, citing exponential growth, and the rapidity of scalar increases as we travel along the x-axis of any timeline when a population grows at a constant rate. 

            Even very low rates yield doubling times, and our “low” rate of 1.4% per year would yield a population doubling with 68 years  (Bartlett, 2005). However, not everyone believes that population growth will remain constant; demographers at the U.N. argue that a “leveling off” will occur, and the population will plateau sometime in the next century. While this has catastrophic implications for the global, debt based economy, the most pressing issue is “how did we get here, and where are we going?” 

 

Spearing the Oil Whale

Captain Ahab, and his relentless pursuit.

            For humans, the addition of 6 billion lives in the span of 200 years was made possible by one thing alone: oil. It took the entirety of human existence up until 1804 for us to reach a billion people. For 200,000 years, we didn’t break that threshold, and the beginnings of an industrial revolution, colonization of a resource rich continent and soon after, the discovery of oil in Titus, Pennsylvania. Oil would change the way we experienced life. Indoor electricity, motor vehicles, diesel locomotives, jet planes and vast energy networks grew around the oil economy (Heinberg, 2005). Petrochemical fertilizers, irrigation by electrically run pumps, plastic wrap, petrol powered refrigerated trucks, electrical grids run on fossil fuels and coal, all conspire to ensure that food could be grown, delivered, and consumed en masse, with little to no work invested on part of the consumer (Hosking, 2009). 

            While this only partially tells the story of how oil revolutionized society, humans had achieved something unprecedented: they’d made useful a source of energy far in excess of anything they’d encountered before, and before we knew it, the infrastructure to continue burning oil for hundreds of years was in place, with no clear plan for what might happen when it ran out (Heinberg, 2005). The energy provided for just one American family to get through a day enjoying their lifestyle requires the energy equivalent to 1500 slaves (Martenson, 2011), and how long at an ever-increasing rate of consumption can this continue? 

            To this day, theories on the driving forces behind peak oil remain contentious; the purpose here is not to validate any timeline, but rather to understand the process of extraction, and how it relates to Hubbard’s curve. All resources feature an extraction profile shaped like a bell curve. The peak of this curve represents the middle point in the life of that resource at point at which as much remains as has been used. For oil, this means that as extraction becomes more expensive, and the product becomes less plentiful, prices will naturally increase and availability will decrease (Martenson, 2011). For an oil-based economy, this has dire implications.

...unlike Ahab, we caught and killed the whale, and we are now at the feast, with no end in sight. We created a system that incentivizes growth and consumption, without a clear plan for what happens when the energy that supplies this system becomes scarce, and as we can see in biology, scarcity leads to conflict.

It’s important to establish several critical points:

  1. The developed world is utterly reliant on oil for it’s economic development (Martenson, 2011), which is an exponential, debt-based monetary system.
  2. There is no clear heir to oil; that is to say, in terms of Energy Returned over Energy Invested, no other energy source comes close to supplying what oil does in terms of raw energy (Heinberg, 2005; Martenson, 2011).
  3. The burning of fossil fuels is exacerbating the natural process of heating in the holocene interglacial period, and this process could mean major increases in ecosystem destruction, especially in conjunction with a rapidly expanding population requiring more agricultural land (IPCC, 2014).
  4. It is unlikely that we will be able to replace oil, and maintain the standard of living we enjoy in the west.
  5. Our population is growing exponentially, and speculation aside, will likely continue to do so until a mechanism forces negative population growth.                  

            In chasing the bloom of energy that we could reap from the whale of oil, we became obsessed with our pursuit, and like Captain Ahab, we have pursued it with reckless abandon, but unlike Ahab, we caught and killed the whale, and we are now at the feast, with no end in sight. We created a system that incentivizes growth and consumption, without a clear plan for what happens when the energy that supplies this system becomes scarce, and as we can see in biology, scarcity leads to conflict. This growth plan requires fossil fuels, which are significant contributors to climate change. 

            So we find ourselves in a predicament – the outflow of which is the greatest environmental issue of our species’ history, with possible exception of the Toba eruption (M. Haslam, 2009):

Without growth, consumption and energy the global economy will collapse. 

            With growth and consumption, pollution will increase and we will use our finite resources at an exponential rate. Without fossil fuel energy, our economy will collapse. With pollution, our ecosystems could collapse. As we can see, this is why our governments keep a wary eye on the “possibility” of climate collapse; while the complications with our global economy and energy network will certainly result in economic collapse, the climate poses the least certain threat and over a far longer timeline… as Naomi Klein once remarked regarding our economic model:            

“It [the global economy] doesn’t have the ability to think rationally… it thinks like a drug addict. ‘Where can I get my next fix’. It doesn’t learn wisely. If we think of any kind of measure of natural wisdom would be you make a mistake, you correct it the next time around… but a crack addict feels terrible and then says ‘I want more’.” 

       Klein, 2007

            While there are those that would argue that the model is fine, and leadership is to blame, Ms. Klein nevertheless makes a sensible analogy regarding international policy on Globalism and economic development. No flagrant abuse of human rights is enough to get the addict to stop economic imperialism, to stop environmental destruction, to stop economic ‘advancement’, even in cases like the Aswan Dam, in which a host of problems have arisen from damming the Nile. (Dr. Tanya Furman, 2015). If we are entering an “Anthropocene” era, it is not because we have created a climate that is unprecedented on Earth, it is because our lust for energy has driven away from sustainability in our pursuit to adapt nature to our wants, rather than our needs.

The Consequences of Comfort

            In an ironic twist of fate, it’s this tailwind of energy driving the positive feedback loop giving birth to a climate hostile to humans. In the opening discussion of this paper, Climate Change was discussed. While boundaries were established regarding the survivability of the human species in a carboniferous environment, the argument should now be introduced discussing what social structure would survive such a shift in environment. On its own, climate change would be a nuisance. In conjunction with the Darwinian issues of overproduction of offspring, and resource scarcity, we must assess our future as a species with grim clarity. 

            Not only can we not continue at 1.4% per year, but also in order to reach a ‘sustainable’ level of human lives on the planet, “negative population growth is going to occur” (Bartlett, 2005). Aquifers are being depleted at a rate approximately 3.5 times faster than they are being replenished (Tom Gleeson, 2012), and few are willing to contest that it is not a problem. Fewer still comprehend the impacts of a world without potable water. Rather than discuss measures to decrease the overall consumption, we turn to new “Aswan Dams”; desalination plants, or pipelines to drain distant rivers. We grow and place increasing demand on our resources to support our comfortable lifestyles. Arguments can be made that we are more than capable of sustaining a much larger population (Patel, 2012), but if we are honest with ourselves when we address the current impacts of growth, is that the wisest decision?            

            It is here that our situation will come to its conclusion; Energy is a luxury, but water is a non-negotiable necessity. Countries have played political games with energy resources, but with growing demand and diminishing resources, the IPCC warns that the increased cycle of flood, drought and heat waves associated with a higher tropospheric CO2, deglaciation (which supplies a significant portion of water to antemountain populations) and the reduction in renewable surface and groundwater resources threaten to create major instability (IPCC, 2014). The implications for issues of justice, displaced and refugee populations and global food and water stability are profound; precisely at the time in which populations are growing too large to be maintained, issues of scarcity may create displacement that channels millions into substandard living conditions (IPCC, 2014). While antithetical to contemporary thinking, the conditions of extreme poverty are the ‘norm’ over the human species’ life history, and scarcity is a part of that. 

            Inevitability 

            Humankind has faced more severe environmental conditions before (King, 2012; Lisiecki, 2010; M. Haslam, 2009). While extreme heat is a constant threat to agriculture, ice ages have likewise placed humans in precarious situations. Our current ‘normal’ is a short duration ‘ideal’ climate between glacial periods, as evidenced by numerous studies conducted by NASA, NOAA, independent scientists like Lisieki and Scotese. The energy dense society we’ve built over the last 200 years is a temporal anomaly, and as we can see from history, one that is likely to end. The case being made here is that this process is perfectly natural, perfectly normal and though we are biologically hard-wired to reject this truth, the inevitability is that our population is far greater than can be sustained. The “overproduction of offspring” phase has coalesced around the whale of oil energy, which has exacerbated the positive feedback loop of our comfortable interglacial warming period. 

            The inevitability is that zero-population growth is coming, and it is coming on the backs of famine, drought, ecosystem destruction and resource competition. 

            We are not without options, nor hope. The most immediate and effective steps we can take to mitigate the worst impacts is to begin to cultivate agriculture locally, in as sustainable a manner as possible. Actively involve yourself with local politics, where political representation still exists, and work towards initiatives that increase resilience, such as water use plans, zoning for less industry and facilitating outreach programs that offer education about agriculture and animal husbandry. Consume less, and learn the skills in use before the Second World War. Finally, we need to adopt a mentality that while injustice, violence and extreme depravity will be a component of a resource scarce future, that we learn from history and understand the way humans act during times of scarcity (Eleanor Learmonth, 2013), and the de facto mental state of humans in a low-tech world (Muzafer Sherif, 1988). Taking this approach illustrates not only the nicety of civilization and civility, but why it is absolutely mandatory, in times of crisis. 

         The greatest environmental challenge today is adaptability. Will we, as humans, adjust to a world with less gracefully, and with compassion, or will the strong inflict their will upon the weak and disadvantaged? The answer depends largely on the approach we take to the problem as citizens, at this moment. We can’t wait on governments to ensure our security, and if we do, we retain none of the qualities that brought our ancestors to become the self-deterministic species we now belong to. The answer to these problems is start where you can have an effect, embrace the cold reality and know that the end result, however grim, will only serve to ensure that the organisms best suited for survival will continue to be a part of the genetic legacy of the planet Earth.

         Good luck out there, Ladies and Gentlemen,

         Aaron YR and the ISG Team

 

Works Cited

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