JCC A Child's Treasury of Doomsday Scenarios

Discussion in 'Community' started by Jabbadabbado, Jan 17, 2013.

  1. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    Chapter One. The Ocean is Dying.

    Superwatto's excellent zoo thread gave me an excuse to mention a 1998 Harper's article that had a profound influence on my personal doomerism: Planet of the Weeds. It was the first time I'd come across the idea that human population pressures were causing a mass extinction event comparable to what was then called the K-T extinction, but is now called the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event. David Quamman's piece painstakingly reviewed the then-current science behind the concept and gave a fairly bleak assessment of where we were heading, given the opportunities do do something about it framed against the rate of human population growth. Within 2-3 generations, we may see the end result of a biodiversity bottleneck that, even absent humans, would take 5-10 million years to heal.

    One of my hobbies over the last 15 years has been tracking the accuracy of David Quamman's piece. I can tell you for certain without any kind of pessimistic bias that the news is not good. At Quamman's writing, the human population was well under 6 billion. Since then we've added something like 17-18% to the total. All the population pressures exerted on biodiversity Quamman described have become that much more severe in a mere decade and a half.

    And one of the areas where the news is worst is the effect of the population on the world's ocean life. Keep in mind that the size of the human population depends heavily on harvesting ocean life for food. For most of human history, the space below the ocean's surface has been a black box. As long as food came out of it, no one asked many questions. The crash of the whaling industry in the 19th century marked a turning point when scholars became aware of the need to understand what was going on down below, not that much has changed. The history of the fishing industry since has been punctuated by an ongoing series of commercial extinction in various fisheries around the world. As wild stocks of edible fish deplete, the rise of aquaculture has kept the supply of seafood relatively steady. Yet this effort papers over the fact that aquaculture fish are mostly fed by trawling the oceans farther down the food chain for feedstock.

    But that's just part of the story. The other part is climate change, ocean acidification, the die-off of coral reefs, pollution, algae blooms, the spread of ocean deserts, and ever-increasing pollution of all kinds. One of the best statements of the problem comes from the 2011 International Earth system expert workshop on ocean stresses and impacts, which concluded that we've blown past the worst-case scenarios, including

    - the coral reefs are dying from global warming and ocean acidification "that indicate disturbances of the carbon cycle associated with each of the previous five mass extinctions on Earth"

    - the worst case scenarios are being matched in terms of arctic sea ice melt, Greenland ice sheet melting, release of seabed methane that are compounding problems such as distribution and abundance of marine species, distribution of harmful algae blooms, simplification and destabilization of the food chain, which further reduces marine life resistance to climate change

    - the combined impact of climate change, overfishing, chemical pollutants, plastic uptake into the food chain, nutrient runoff, etc. magnifies the effects and has lead to an expansion of ocean dead zones at an accelerating rate. The multiple stressors of human activity accelerates the phase shift from coral-dominated to algae-dominated ecosystems, meaning that "organisms of low nutritional value, such as jellyfish" begin to dominate ocean ecosystems.

    The conclusion: unless we take action now, we will ensure the next globally significant extinction event in the ocean, comparable to all five global extinction events of the past 600 million years. The longer we wait, the more difficult and expensive remediation efforts will become.

    What kind of action we can take:

    -Reduce CO2 emissions now.
    -restore marine ecosystems by:
    • reducing fishing efforts to long-term sustainable levels
    • reducing nutrient inputs (sewage and farming runoff) into marine ecosystems
    • reducing oil, gas and mineral extraction from the oceans
    -use the UN security council and UN General Assembly to introduce and enforce effective governance of the high seas.

    Let's be clear. None of these things is going to happen within the next quarter century, as all of them are the direct results of human population pressures which will continue to grow more severe through the next quarter to half century.

    Even if we bring population growth to zero immediately, the current level of pressure sustained over several decades will still be enough to ensure a mass extinction event for marine life.

    What we need at a minimum is 1) zero global population growth plus 2) dramatic reduction of consumption levels in the industrialized world to more sustainable levels. We all need to live much more simple lives.

    Is that going to happen? Not soon, and not without catastrophe, which will certainly occur if we cannot prevent mass extinction across the ocean, which is a critical part of our food supply.

    And let's not forget that the same kinds of things are happening on land. Habitat destruction and reduction of biodiversity. Some of that won't have as big an effect on the human food supply, but other on-land events, such as the depletion of fresh water supplies and the degradation of land needed for agriculture, will have their own disastrous impact.

    15 years after Quamman wrote Planet of the Weeds, his conclusion holds up pretty well. We're in the middle of a human population-caused mass extinction event, and we're going to have to ride it out.
    Last edited by Jabbadabbado, Jan 17, 2013
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  2. AAAAAH Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 8, 2012
    star 4
    BLAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGG

    oh man this thread is just COVERED in puke now!
  3. VadersLaMent Chosen One

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    Apr 3, 2002
    star 9
  4. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
  5. AAAAAH Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 8, 2012
    star 4
    joobadoobadooba! bedeebadabop bop bop! jaboodabadabeedabadaboodababee!
  6. Fire_Ice_Death Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 15, 2001
    star 7
    Been hitting the sauce again, Jabba?
  7. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    I didn't know you were one of those climate change/science deniers, FID.

    [IMG]

    Chapter 2: Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.

    Another great Harper's article, this one from 2012:

    Broken Heartland: The Looming Collapse of Agriculture on the Great Plains.

    There is no doomerish information bouncing around the ether that focuses dread more authentically than news about the world's freshwater supply. This article is just a microcosm of the story of human population growth and its effect on water resource management. The Great Plains are full of marginal land that was opened to the green revolution and large-scale agriculture by the one-time drawdown of a fossil water resource. In less than 100 years, by 2030, one of the world's great freshwater supplies will have been depleted to commercial uselessness, and large scale agriculture over a large swath of the United States will come to an end.

    By 2030, 17 years from now, the world's population will likely be 8 billion. The pressures on global food production will be immense. Yet, the Ogallala story is just one chapter of a vast encyclopedia of similar one-time drawdowns of fossil water resources that happened across the globe in the 20th century in support of the green revolution that cranked up the human population by 350% between 1925 and today. India's problems are unprecedented in human history, as are China's. China has responded in its unique fashion with the largest water diversion project ever conceived by man - the South-North Water Transfer project, an engineering behemoth that, as vast as it is, will not so much solve China's water problems as distribute water poverty somewhat more equitably at immense environmental cost.

    And the wholesale global depletion of subterranean aquifers is just one small part of the water scarcity story of the 21st century. Just some of the other parts are changes in rainfall and snow patterns due to climate change, the end of glacier water resources, water pollution, competition for water resources between expanding urban centers and agricultural uses. Water for food production vs. water for drinking and sanitation in cities, this is perhaps the ultimate dilemma of modern civilization. More than ever, one of the clearest divides between the haves and have nots this century will be access to water. And water poverty will increasingly be a major source of domestic social instability and geopolitcial conflict.
  8. Debo Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Sep 27, 2001
    star 5
    If the inane, attention-seeking yawps emanating from the other posters signal the level the world is about to sink to, perhaps it's a relief that we're slowly eradicating ourselves.
    Point Given likes this.
  9. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    @Debo, one of the more endearing conceits of the Quamman article is that he did not argue the imminent eradication of the human race. His hopefulness came from the observation that, of all the weed species, humans are the weediest. He expressed the belief that we will be still be fighting the good fight for survival there at the end when all we have left for company are the pigeons, rats, cockroaches, dandylions and jellyfish.
    Last edited by Jabbadabbado, Jan 18, 2013
  10. Debo Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Sep 27, 2001
    star 5
    Sounds like the JC to me. ;)
    Jabbadabbado likes this.
  11. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    [IMG]

    Chapter 3: The Nuclear Winter of Our Discontent

    When I was a child during the last half of the cold war, mutually assured destruction was the doomsday scenario. These days, it's not so popular to worry about nuclear apocalypse. All the Hollywood doomsday movies are being made about asteroid impacts and alien invasion.That's because the cold war is long over. Russia and the U.S. maintain an ongoing political dialogue about their respective nuclear arsenals. New START followed SORT following START I, and so on. Pakistan and India do not seem on the brink of nuclear war. The North Korean nuclear threat seems severely limited. Iran has probably not yet acquired the bomb, and Israel has not yet dusted off its "secret" arsenal to bomb Iran back into the stone age.

    Nuclear war is not imminent, yet we've inherited the nuclear estate of the cold war. The combined global nuclear stockpile remains at something like 17,000 weapons, with only about 5-6% of the global stockpile not in the hands of the U.S. or Russia. It's clear that as long as the world's nuclear stockpile contains more than 1 weapons, there remains a non-zero risk of nuclear conflict in the world. Since most of the nations that possess nuclear weapons have at least 100 of them apiece, the risk of a larger-scale regional or worldwide nuclear conflict must also be considered greater than zero. I don't know what that level of risk is, but any calculus would have to factor in the warlike nature of humans and the periodic failure of diplomacy as a war-prevention tool, the increase of food and water scarcity and limited access to energy sources, rendered inevitable by the increasing impact of climate change and a growing human population on regional and global geopolitical stability.

    Despite the lack of current pop appeal, some scientists remain interested in the consequence of nuclear war. Here are some links to some more and less recent studies of the effects of a modern regional or global nuclear conflict. This website offers a diverting look at three nuclear war scenarios that dump 5, 50 and 150 million tons of smoke into the atmosphere, [TRY THE NUCLEAR FIRESTORM SIMULATOR!] causing nuclear winters of corresponding increasing severity and calamity for the human population and indeed for all life on earth. There is no question that humans have a nuclear arsenal large enough to pull off a worst-case scenario.

    The good news, we have avoided even the least-devastating of the nuclear conflict scenarios for almost 70 years. Here's a look the chronology of nuclear war avoidance:

    [IMG]

    Obviously, this chronology is inaccurate in that the human race won't survive forever. Also, nuclear weapons could potentially become obsolete and be replaced by something even more destructive. But the point is, we have avoided nuclear war for two generations, not nearly enough time to prove that we're really good at avoiding nuclear war. Every day we survive as an industrial civilization is a day that we need to re-prove our capacity for nuclear war avoidance. Yes, we keep working at the problem through nuclear weapons treaties and anti-proliferation efforts. At least we recognize we have a problem, although you wouldn't know it from recent pop culture references.
    Last edited by Jabbadabbado, Jan 21, 2013
  12. Fire_Ice_Death Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 15, 2001
    star 7
    I'm not. You just seem to revel in the doomsday scenarios a little too much. It's...amusingly consistent.
  13. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    I aim to amuse.

    You demonstrate pretty readily that Americans and Western Europeans, Japanese, South Koreans, Australians, and the rest of the first world spend far too little time thinking about doomsday scenarios. Well, maybe not the Japanese. Maybe they understand the consequences of industrial civilization better than most cultures.

    You're like most people in that the mention of doomsday scenarios in an even marginally serious way seems to make you extremely uncomfortable.

    In the U.S., we worry more about gun ownership, school shootings and terrorist attacks than climate change, even though none of those things poses the slightest threat to our way of life. What really matters is that in my lifetime, the world has accomplished very little on CO2 emissions, with the exception of China's one child policy and the declining first world growth rate. That hasn't been nearly enough.

    Nuclear war avoidance has been our greatest success on the Problems That Really Matter front. Still, the world's nuclear arsenal is so vast that it seems reckless for it to not be continually part of public discourse.
    Last edited by Jabbadabbado, Jan 21, 2013
  14. AAAAAH Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 8, 2012
    star 4
    now we're getting somewhere.
  15. Fire_Ice_Death Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 15, 2001
    star 7
    It's not so much that it makes people uncomfortable, but it is because it's very crackpot-y. Barring global climate change (which is a problem) the other scenarios are either unlikely or so far down the road that they can be fixed or minimized. And if not then neither of us will know for sure anyway. As for people 'ignoring' the problem...well...it's like my anxiety disorder and hypochondria: if you spent too much time worrying about everything that could happen, that's not living. So you either worry yourself to death about issues that could happen, that might happen, or that will happen every second of every day or you go about your life and hope that humanity's as clever as it thinks it is. I happen to think that these problems are much bigger and require a lot of work to fix, but if your society is geared toward complacency you're just shouting at the wind and alienating people with scenarios that seem unlikely.

    Or...you know...we could party like it's Armageddon. [face_party][face_dancing]
    Jabbadabbado likes this.
  16. I Are The Internets Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Nov 20, 2012
    star 7
    I'm more worried about the potential Yellowstone super volcano. It hasn't gone off yet. Is there still a chance it could go off in our lifetime?
  17. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    Over the years I've enjoyed people's gut reactions to my doomsday threads almost as much as I've enjoyed the much more limited opportunity to actually discuss these issues.

    I would say that the reason it seems crackpot-y is because most people give in to the brain's natural inclination toward an irrational heuristic approach to risk analysis and attention focus. It's non controversial that human cognition is deeply flawed and that most people are completely unaware of the natural and hard-wired shortcomings of their own mental processes or the extent to which their opinions and beliefs tend to reflect those flaws.

    We're engaged in ordinary pursuits most of the time: providing necessities for ourselves and our families, saving and investing for the future, for our retirement, for our children's education, deciding how to allocate disposable income between additional savings/investment and leisure consumption or other kinds of spending like charitable giving.

    There's often time left over for other pursuits besides making and spending money. We watch tv, we surf the web. We post on web forums, We volunteer. We engage in issue advocacy.

    Worrying about the end of the world takes up the tiniest corner of that tiniest disposable time/money component of the average person's life. I get it.

    The problem as I see it is that it's not a good thing. Climate change and population overshoot deserve a bigger piece of the world's disposable income and attention pie.

    It seems to me that we should be devoting 5-10% of global economic product every year toward mitigating the human population/energy use emissions problem. a 10% diversion of resources from the present to the future.
    Last edited by Jabbadabbado, Jan 21, 2013
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  18. SuperWatto Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Sep 19, 2000
    star 5
    FID, you just have no kids yet. It's only natural that you're selfish. Still, it's... eh... dare I say it... hypocritical to blame society for being complacent when you're the prime example.

    What I wonder, Jabba, is what you're doing about it? Except, you know, telling it to people that don't care. We discussed what you did for your kids a while ago, but what do you do for the world?
  19. Fire_Ice_Death Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 15, 2001
    star 7
    Selfish? How do you get selfish from that?
  20. AAAAAH Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 8, 2012
    star 4
    i want all this stuff to happen. is that shellfish?
  21. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    I know I'm a hypocrite too, no different from FID. I would have limited my family to one child, but I lost that battle with my wife. I do make the youngest wear a "Second" t shirt every day a la Ender's Game.

    I don't know if it has much global impact. Our family consumption policy is as follows:

    Family:

    1) one family car. Maximize carpooling and use of public transportation.
    2) do not buy a home at the limits of affordability. We made the choice to buy a smaller home than we could have afforded
    3) recycling and composting, including rainwater recycling
    4) keep expanding our "Victory Garden" efforts, ongoing experimenting with drip irrigation.
    5) localized and seasonal food consumption where viable
    6) limits on in-home water usage. 5 minute shower limit per family member, lowered water usage for toilets.

    Friends:

    1) clothing exchange. we make sure that all usable kids clothing circulates among neighbors and friends. Same with books and toys.
    2) Discuss environmental impact and resource consumption issues with friends to the extent they can tolerate it.

    Community:

    1) helped introduce and implement green program to my kids' swim club. Limited paper consumption, created an alternative to bottled water sales at concessions stand.
    2) joined a local permaculture organization. Meet regularly and have expanded financial commitment to that organization as well as expanded ties to national and international permaculture groups.
    3) attend village meetings regularly when environmental issues are discussed, participate in community environmental initiatives
    4) helped institute healthy lunch program, change in food polices with the local school district

    State: financially support environmental advocacy initiatives, participate in advocacy efforts at the Illinois state legislative level

    Nationally: write my representative/senators on relevant environmental issues. Write and visit my congressional representative and Senators on relevant issues.

    Internationally. Maintain ties with international permaculture efforts. Keep in touch with environmental activist acquaintances in Austria and Britain.

    That's not much, I know, but I'm not very creative. My wife made me promise her about ten years ago that I would find an approach that didn't involve loading up a U Haul with guns and moving to a carboard shack in the Alaskan wildnerness.
    Last edited by Jabbadabbado, Jan 21, 2013
  22. I Are The Internets Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Nov 20, 2012
    star 7
    The shellfish will evolve and fire laser beams out of their eyes and kill us all because of our environmental desecration! The Happening 2: Don't Go in the Water.
    "Wha? Oh no ma'am not the water!"
  23. SuperWatto Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Sep 19, 2000
    star 5
    Don't get me wrong FID, I understand that if one wants to save the world for their kids is just extended selfishness. I'm extended-selfish.
    But yeah, I think the "after us, the deluge" mentality is in essence selfish.
    Last edited by SuperWatto, Jan 21, 2013
  24. SuperWatto Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Sep 19, 2000
    star 5
    Jabba: :eek:
    So where exactly are you hypocritical? I don't see how you could do much more without disadvantaging yourself, and thus hampering your capability to do all of this. If it's about the kids: just sterilize them!

    If anyone's hypocritical about this, it's me. I contribute to environmental institutions, nuclear disarmament programs, climate institutions, and I like to think I'm helping to make the world a better place... but I make money off it.
  25. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    That's a good idea about sterilizing the children. I'll bring it up with them. The youngest is gullible enough that I may be able to talk him into it.

    I think it's hypocritical in that I really would have preferred to load up the U Haul with guns and move to a cardboard shack in the Alaskan wilderness.