Futurcide: is the story of how humanity now faces the stark reality of our evolutionary success. Our future is now what we make it. We now control all life on the planet, including our own. Will we choose a safe, just and sustainable future or collapse like all the great civilizations before us?
Our differences are small and inconsequential. For our entire history we have been explorers and one people sharing a lonely spaceship, hurtling through the void of space and time. The laws of the universe are strict and sometimes difficult to understand. Those laws are unforgiving and non-negotiable. If we look hard enough to understand and use them wisely; our species has no limits. We have arrived at a moment in time when our future, and the future of all life on Earth, rests entirely in our hands. But first we must accept that we are of one mind seeking truth, justice, equality, and a sustainable future on the one place we all call home. Individually we may seem weak, just as a single stick may break; but when humanity pulls together, like sticks in a bundle, we are strong. The question of our time remains unanswered. Will we collectively choose a path of prosperity, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability or will we choose the existential collapse of civilization and mass extinction? The need to choose is immediate and absolute.
One of the Sea Shepherd fleet:
Photo credit: BY CIMSEC 2016-09-14 20:04:40
Our future survival is at stake. "We're the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it." Governor Jay Inslee, Washington State
The exceptional warming we experience today is undeniably human caused. This excessive warming causes the climate to change. The crises humanity faces is not only global warming and subsequent changes in the climate — it is a synergy of intertwined forces driving a cascading collapse of security in multiple spheres. Unprecedented climate extremes pose a threat multiplier on many fronts. The root threat may be environmental but inaction is social.
Climate change is not what you see outside today. The global climate is a multiple decade trend over the entire planet. While there were blizzard conditions and -35℉ in Fargo, North Dakota; it set a new record of 49.5℃ (121.28℉) on the 25th of January, 2019 in Port Augusta, Australia. The overall trend is clearly warming at an unprecedented pace. The consequences are far worse than most of humanity realizes.
We have dithered away our chance for an inexpensive, safe transition to sustainable development. The worst case models have proven to be the most accurate. In many cases contemporary observational measurements show even greater rates of warming than those worst case models. We are rapidly approaching the limits of Earth's resilience to human insult. On a business as usual (BAU) pathway, there is a better than even chance that two in seven living today will die prematurely by mid-century. The United Nations warns that there is a less than 5% chance that humanity will be able to cut emissions enough to stay below 2℃ (3.6℉) of warming before the end of this century. With a BAU scenario, there is a 10 % chance warming could exceed 6℃ (10.8℉) and continue to warm for centuries. If we don't act immediately, there is the stark probability that we face the brutal dystopian world depicted in pulp fiction and film. We are now faced with the cost and urgency of saving civilization and most of life on Earth.
Could this be climate alarmist hyperbole as some special interest groups claim? The short answer is no. There are 80 nations with national academies of science (NAS) to inform policy makers of the state of science and knowledge. Not one NAS disagrees that human activities are the major contributor to global warming and subsequent changes in the climate. Even the most cursory investigation on the subject at any major university in the world comes to the same conclusion.
"Earth's climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of civilization. The impacts of global climate change are already being felt in the United States and are projected to intensify in the future — but the severity of future impacts will depend largely on actions taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the changes that will occur." (2018, Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II; Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States)
Why is it so difficult to transmit these dire projections to the general public? Our human habitat now encompasses the entire surface of Earth. Our senses deceive us. At first glance these truly are the best of times. How can things be so good and the future so promising, yet be on the verge of collapse? We stuff ourselves on the last helpings of Earth's banquet. Like a candle that flickers the brightest just before it dies, our global civilization booms with prosperity while teetering on the edge of unperceived disaster.
We lurk like a spider at the center of a vast interconnected web of planetary goods and services. We pluck filament after filament, oblivious or uncaring of the consequences. In an orgy of gluttony we feast, plunder, waste and throw away without regard. The basic economy of nations is founded upon consumption. But the laws of nature are absolute. We wager too much, forgetting that Mother Nature always holds the high card. To survive, humanity must live within the bio-geochemical boundaries that make our habitat livable. We have the power of gods but little of the wisdom or self-restraint. Adults admonish children to clean their rooms. Meanwhile adults blithely pollute and foul the only habitat we have. It is little wonder that young people distrust adults and the institutions of adults?
"Climate change affects the natural, built, and social systems we rely on individually and through their connections to one another. These interconnected systems are increasingly vulnerable to cascading impacts that are often difficult to predict, threatening essential services within and beyond the Nations's borders." (2018, Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II; Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States)
Failure to address climate change has become the single greatest threat multiplier in human history. At least two billion remain on the edge of calamity without enough clean water for basic needs. Nearly a billion do not have safe water to drink. Ground water is being depleted faster than it is replenished. Arable soil loss is increasing while the demand for more food increases even faster. As stressors multiply it will become more difficult to maintain prosperity for rich nations; and impossible for the poor.
A sustainable future will soon be impossible. We have no more than 10 years before our options end and nature plays her high card with sublime indifference to the arrogance of this strange biped that presently dominates the planet.
Who bears the guilt for this? Two hundred years of investigation and overwhelming evidence has only increased the resolution of scientific assertion. Still, there are those who seek to create doubt in the public mind and sway government policy. Special interests seek out chinks in the system and corruptible government officials with lies and half-truths. These special interest businesses are among the wealthiest in the world, yet they have only one product to sell. To preserve the global economic dependence on that one product, they seek to create uncertainty in science and scientists. The following message is repeated, often verbatim, in the media silos of ultra-conservative propaganda.
"There are thousands of scientists that dispute that global warming is evening happening? Some scientists even say increased CO2 will only make the planet greener."
The above claims are a corporate sponsored, pre-meditated lies and half-truth designed to create distrust in government and disbelief in solid empirical science. There are not thousands of actual climate scientists that dispute global warming. The extraordinary warming we are witnessing today is not caused by the orbit of the earth, volcanoes, the way the planet wobbles on it's axis or sun spots. Those influences on Earth's climate cycles have been well understood for a century or more. There has not been a single alternative hypothesis that disputes human induced global warming. The data has only become clearer in recent decades. There IS NO CREDIBLE EVIDENCE contradicting fossil fuel emissions of CO2 as the major cause of today's unprecedented warming. Denial without evidence supporting a rational argument is unworthy of a response.
When asked how she responds to these false claims, Greta Thunberg, 16 year old climate activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee said. "I don't."
THE OCEAN CRISIS: The feedback loop few talk about.
Approximately 71.2% of the Earth's surface is covered by water. Without it, we could not exist; yet we waste it, poison it, pollute it and acidify it with little regard. The 2018, 4th U.S. National Climate Assessment puts it this way:
"The Nation's valuable ocean ecosystems are being disrupted by increasing global temperatures through the loss of iconic and highly valued habitats and changes in species composition and food web structure. Ecosystem disruption will intensify as ocean warming, acidification, deoxygenation, and other aspects of climate change increase. In the absence of significant reductions in carbon emissions, transformative impacts on ocean ecosystems cannot be avoided." (2018, Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II; Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States)
Roughly 16% of our food protein comes from the sea. Marine fisheries and fishing communities are at extremely high risk as climate driven changes alter the distribution, timing and productivity of fishery related species. The ocean absorbs over 90% of the energy striking Earth and circulates massive amounts of that energy by ocean currents. Those circulation systems determine wind patterns, precipitation distribution, and the climate over Earth’s continents.
For every one degree centigrade of warming approximately 5% to 7% more moisture is evaporated into the atmosphere. Because water vapor is also a greenhouse gas (GHG), this creates a closed loop of increased water vapor causing more warming causing more water vapor and so on.
Radiant heating is greatest near the equator so the tropics are warmer than higher latitudes. That warming pumps evaporated water vapor into the atmosphere, constantly pushing toward the poles. As tropical air rises, it cools. Water vapor condenses and falls as precipitation. The remaining dry air then descends, compresses and becomes warmer. This pattern of moist warm air rising, precipitation, and warm dry air descending creates warm wet and dry bands that appear at specific latitudes around the planet. These bands are called Hadley cells. Hadley cells expand as the ocean absorbs more energy. The wet bands tend to become wetter and the dry bands tend to become drier. The tropical latitudes are experiencing more intensive rain and heat than usual. They are also experiencing unpredictable changes in monsoon patterns critical to agriculture. Moderately dry areas like the Mediterranean countries of Spain, Italy, Greece, and North Africa are experiencing heat waves and droughts that are predicted to intensify.
For millennia the ocean was considered accessible to everyone. Like the atmosphere it belonged to everyone because it was vital to everyone for food and trade. When something belongs to everyone it is referred to as the commons. The ocean is the reason there is abundant life on Earth. The ocean is the major driver of climate and atmospheric circulation patterns. Roughly 40% of the human population live within 60 miles of the ocean. Marine plants produce over half of the oxygen we breathe and nearly all of the potable water through evaporation and precipitation.
Despite the ocean's vital importance, there are very few international maritime laws to insure that the ocean continues as part of a protected global commons. Enforcement is almost entirely voluntary. Mineral extraction, over fishing, pollution and strategic control of critical shipping lanes has made the ocean a major source of contention. Piracy still rages where nations refuse to insure shipping lanes are safe. At the same time commercial vessels may not carry weapons for defense.
There are laws protecting a few marine species; yet enforcement is often left up to private, non-profit organizations like Sea Shepherd. Whaling bans serve only as voluntary guidelines for most nations and are totally ignored under false pretenses by others. There is a tendency to look the other way when international bodies lack the will or resources to enforce those laws. When private non-profits step in there is a narrow path they must tread between hero and villain, even for the most noble of causes.
The Grand Banks cod fishery — a case study in over-fishing: In the 19th and early 20th century, cod was nearly a staple in the American diet. North Atlantic cod fishing had flourished for nearly 500 years. Fisheries like the Grand Banks were considered inexhaustible. Codfish oil was considered a miracle cure and source of vitality and long life.
I first read “Captains Courageous” when I was seven. Kipling gave an accurate account of Gloucester fishermen, their almost mythical schooners, and the seemingly endless bounty of the Georgian and Grand Banks cod fishery. Iron men in sleek wooden dories, baited hooks and pulled hand lines until they were awash with flapping tails. The dories fed the schooners where the fish were processed, salted and put into the hold until they could not hold anymore.
These sleek schooners, sporting sails measuring thousands of square feet, were euphemistically called “knockabouts.” They were also deceptively fast, really fast. Once filled to the gunwales with cod, they raced to be first to market. Those that arrived first could ask the highest price.
Knockabouts were so quick, in the off season, they took on the best international yacht racing could offer. Perhaps the most famous of these working class schooners was the “Bluenose.” For two decades no other design could compete. One yachtsman was asked why he lost the America’s Cup to the “Bluenose.” He replied that he raced for fun. These fishermen do it for a living.
Each season as many as 400 “knockabouts” went to sea. A single “knockabout” could salt up to 250,000 pounds of cod in the hold. The work was hard and dangerous. Each year a dozen or more of these sleek craft never returned.
Fishing vessels and equipment made a great leap forward when power replaced sail. More vessels brought in more fish. Gradually a fishery decline became apparent. By 1970 foreign fishing vessels were banned, but American fishing continued the harvest with even more efficient technologies. By the 1990s, both Canada and the U.S. agreed to close fishing for all bottom-dwelling species, including cod in hopes that the fishery would recover. Recovery did not happened. Warming waters in the Atlantic further compromised the resilience of cod stocks. Invasive species replaced the missing link in the ecosystem. The demand for cod remains high and the same pressures on stocks continue elsewhere.
What Caused the Commercial Fishery Collapse?
The history of cod and the Grand Banks serves as a lesson for fisheries generally. Four factors appear to be responsible for commercial fishery collapse:
In the absence of international protections for the ocean commons, nations are expanding their territorial waters to protect vital protein resources. It remains to be seen how long those fisheries will last under the ever-increasing demand for fish protein.
The Spratly Islands area of the South China Sea, over 500 miles from the China mainland. China has turned these distant shallow sea-mounts into militarized islands to further expand their territorial waters. China now claims that these new islands justify a claim to most of the South China Sea. The speed and scale of China’s effort has alarmed the international community and surrounding nations of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Japan. Satellite surveillance shows the construction of airstrips, port facilities and military assets. Access to productive fisheries and free passage for trade is threatened. This is a breech of international maritime law but there who is willing to enforce against a powerful nation like China.
Other nations may use more covert hit and run tactics. Foreign fishing vessels have routinely invaded U.S. territorial waters for more than a century. When they are pursued, they drop their nets and skedaddle. The abandoned nets continue to kill fish for decades, further depleting fish stocks. These ghost nets pose a hazard to marine navigation and make up approximately 10 percent of all marine litter.
A core problem in fisheries management is that economic pressure often has greater influence on governance than the science. Illegal and overfishing by developed and developing nations continue to contribute to depleted stocks. Fish stocks in many parts of the world are unsustainable because of a lack of oversight, regulatory control and sound science based policy.
At least a quarter of all fish stocks are overexploited or dangerously depleted. Nearly 80 percent of larger predatory fish species like Salmon, Bluefin Tuna, Swordfish, Grouper and Atlantic Halibut are already endangered. Fishing vessels have to travel farther to find their prey. More frequently, the fishery rests in someone else’s territorial waters. Fishing techniques have become more efficient at catching target species but often kill other species that are simply treated as waste. Bottom dredging destroys bottom habitat that may not recover for years, if ever. Ocean acidification and warming waters are a death nell to marine coral. Coral is a critical habitat for 25% of marine life. Without habitat native species are unlikely to ever recover.
Still, most fisheries can be saved by proper regulatory oversight. With proper management, their recovery could even be seen in a few years rather than decades. The large fisheries, however, are in more serious trouble and some areas have collapsed and may never recover. Without regulatory oversight and enforcement; waste, bycatch and mismanagement continue to threaten production of our entire global fishing industry.
Note: Bycatch refers to other marine species that are caught unintentionally. It is either of a different species, the wrong sex, undersized or juveniles of the target species.
The demand for fish protein continues to rise, as the human population increases and living standards improve. The pressure to catch more falls on the fishing industry as well as the social structures that establish fisheries policy. Education and changes in behavior becomes even more important as declines in native fish stocks threaten ancient economies and the livelihood for tens of millions worldwide.
To fill the demand for fish protein, markets have increasingly turned to aquaculture. Replacing wild production with aquaculture places new demands on both the economy and natural systems. In the wild, species like cod are part of an ecosystem involving many species and bio-geochemical systems that are still not fully understood. When we remove one part of the ecological web, we alter the entire system. Aquaculture also presents a host of new management problems. What do we do with fish waste? Are hatchery-raised species as nutritious and robust as wild species? Are they more prone to disease? Where do we get the nutrients to feed hatchery fish?
What once seemed inexhaustible has proven vulnerable. The story of cod is happening with hundreds of marine species. We are at an apex where we have to choose between stewardship or be overwhelmed by unregulated economic demand.
We are polluting the Earth’s oceans. What once seemed so vast and imperturable is now clearly vulnerable to the flotsam and jetsam of civilization and marine trade. Our oceans absorb about 30% of the carbon dioxide we produce by burning fossil fuels. That is changing fundamental ocean chemistry. As more carbon dioxide is absorbed, ocean chemistry changes from the preindustrial state of pH 8.3 to a new global average of roughly pH 8.1. The pH scale ranges from 14 to 0. A pH of 7.0 is neutral. This 0.2 change in pH may seem slight but represents a 30% change in ocean acidity. The present rate of acidification is ten times faster than at any time in the past 50 million years. That 30% change erodes the shells and skeletons of mollusks, crabs and corals. There is strong evidence that this increasing acidification attacks plankton that are the foundation of the marine food pyramid. Several studies indicate that increased ocean acidification may lower metabolic efficiency in some photosynthetic plankton. The increasing ocean acidification can reduce photosynthetic plankton’s (phytoplankton) ability to metabolize carbon dioxide and produce oxygen (Crawley and Kline, 2010) (Brading and Warner, 2011).
Photosynthesis by marine plants produce over 50% of atmospheric oxygen. Brian Palmer, science reporter for the National Resource Defense Counsel puts it this way. “…do you like oxygen? Phytoplankton — tiny plants floating near the surface of the ocean — produce around half of the oxygen we breathe. Does it make sense for the source of every other breath to exist in an ill-governed part of the world.”
Pacific Northwest Shellfish farmers have suffered up to an 80% loss in production because of marine acidification. Periodic upwelling currents release accumulated carbon based minerals. This further lowers the pH of marine waters. Recently some northwest marine acidification measurements ranged from pH 8.2 to as low as pH 7.6. Model projections indicate that acidification could increase as much as 150 times by the end of the century. On a business as usual pace the impact on marine ecology and planetary systems would be devastating.
Washington State’s seafood industry generates more than 43,000 jobs and $1.7 billion annually. Greg Dale, southwest operations manager at Coast Seafoods Company in Northern California said. “The ocean drives everything — the whole food web, our weather, clouds.”