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Member since: Sun Jun 4, 2017, 04:46 PM
Number of posts: 1,660

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Walking the talk on overpopulation

We've all seen this exchange at some point:

"We need to reduce the world's population."
"OK, you go first."

Here's a couple who said, "All right, we will."


They wanted to leave this world together, on their own terms, and so on 27 October 2019, Carl and Susan Chase held hands in their favorite spot at home overlooking Horseshoe Cove in Brooksville until death came.

Carl, an accomplished sailor and musician, was 77.

Susan, a renowned sculptor and art teacher, was 75.

The Chases died by suicide, but they wrote in a letter published this month along with their joint obituary in The Ellsworth American and Bangor Daily News that their decision was neither irrational nor desperate, but reasoned.

The Chases wanted their reasons known to the world, but by doing so they have provoked an intense and uncomfortable conversation about death and choice. Suicide experts also said there is real risk that their deaths could be framed as normal and could inspire others to choose suicide.

“We have enjoyed generally good health until the last few years, when it has started to become clear that the body is wearing out,” they wrote. “Where most people these days tackle every medical issue as it arises, we’ve chosen not to spend our last years in an escalating battle against our body’s failures, take more and more pills, signing up for exhausting operations, waiting for the next issue to show up.

“Dying is natural, and inescapable. We see nothing good about stretching the process out over as many years as possible.”

"The pressure of over-population is bringing about the destruction of civilization, and will eventually cause the extinction of our species as we make the planet unfit for ourselves. This process is already well underway. As a consequence truth, decency and rule of law are disappearing daily right before our eyes, leaving no system or social structure capable of managing the mess. Things are sure to get uglier and more violent as “survival of the fittest” becomes the rule. It is hard to be cheerful when confronted by the daily news. We’ve seen more than enough of it already. We have no desire to be further witness to it."

Two years ago I helped my wife have a medically assisted death. That experience cemented my desire to choose my own exit when the time comes. My reasons are the same as the Chases.
Posted by The_jackalope | Sat Dec 7, 2019, 01:56 PM (7 replies)

More on sustainability

My starting point for this post is a comment made earlier by Boomer.

To paraphrase Boomer's accurate observation, the critical feature of sustainability isn't how many people can be supported at any given moment in time. Rather, it is the number of humans that could live here without damaging the biosphere we depend on for survival.

A sustainable species never damages the biosphere irreparably. That's a pretty tall order.

Humans damage the biosphere in many ways

One is by shifting resources in space. This means usurping the habitat and resources needed by other species, and sequestering them for human use. Resources obtained in regions unimportant to humans are moved to wherever humans need it, at the expense of indigenous species in the original location.

We also shift resources in time, by stealing resources from the past and the future and using them in the present. An example of this is using fossil fuel energy to pump water out of aquifers for agriculture, thereby using historical fossil fuel resources to diminish future water resources.

Habitat is usurped from other species simply by moving humans to that location and in the process making it inhospitable to indigenous life (the affected indigenous life doesn't even need to be non-human...) The sequestering of habitat and resources for human use often go hand in hand.

The unsustainability of our species at any time can be roughly gauged by the degree to which we have concentrated the the spatial and temporal distribution of resources into the here and now, and the extent to which humans have displaced wild life of all sorts.

In contrast, being a fully sustainable presence would require us to do no damage to the planet that could not be repaired by natural biophysical processes in real time.

Given such constrained behaviour, the human species could survive for a very long time indeed (perhaps tens of millions of years) alongside all other sustainable species. Of course, any damage that can't be repaired invokes the concept of overshoot, and will shorten the species' period of survivability by some (unknown, perhaps unknowable) amount.

It should be obvious to everyone here that our species' current way of life is unsustainable by these criteria.

Is it possible to return our species to sustainability? To answer that question it helps to have a benchmark. When was the last time Homo sapiens might have qualified as a sustainable species using these criteria?

In my opinion, the timestamp has to be placed at least prior to the invention of agriculture, since it was agricultural technology that kicked off the population and cultural growth that got us here.

Before the development of agriculture (as distinct from the horticulture practiced by many hunter forager societies), the global human population is estimated to have been about 6 million people, with an annual growth rate around 0.02%

A population of 6 million hunter foragers could perhaps be considered sustainable, except for a couple of caveats.

One caveat is population growth. With a climbing net birth rate it didn't take long for a population of 6 million to turn into 6 billion. We managed it in just over 12,000 years, at an average growth rate of a measly 0.06%. Our current growth rate is over 1%, 50 times higher than the 0.02% of "Homo sustainabilensis".

The other caveat is per-capita consumption growth, as well as the growth in technology that is required to sustain both growing population and consumption levels.

Per-capita consumption can be loosely approximated by energy consumption, since all material goods require energy to produce. A hunter-forager consumed about 150 watts in food and fuel. A modern human uses more than twenty times that amount. This energy use amplifies the damage done to the biosphere by the growing number of humans.

So, 6 million humans all living as hunter-foragers might be considered sustainable. But only if we were to maintain a static population capped at 6 million, and a static level of per-capita consumption capped at the equivalent of 150 watts of energy use.

By this estimate, compared to our nominally sustainable forebears we are already in overshoot by a factor of about 25,000. And it's climbing with every new mouth and every increase in energy consumption.

(Sarcasm generator on)

Humanity could of course move back toward sustainability. Easy-peasy. All we'd have to do is: reduce our population (the more the better - we're 7.5 billion people from our goal); stop population growth completely; reduce our energy consumption and the activity that it drives - say by 90%); and eliminate all technological development that results in greater energy consumption (I'm looking at you, William Stanley Jevons.)

(Sarcasm off)

What? We can't/won't do that? I know that. This isn't an exercise in goal-setting. It's an exercise in measuring the width of the Atlantic Ocean in case we're ever inclined to try swimming across it.
Posted by The_jackalope | Fri Nov 29, 2019, 09:56 PM (1 replies)

The reason the world's situation keeps getting worse is simple

Over the last 4000 years or so, we (the global, universal, techno-civilized 'we') have come to see the world as a socioeconomic system rather than a biophysical system. That means we see the world as a habitat for humanity rather that as a home for all life.

Individually we seem to evaluate proposed changes mainly in social and economic terms. The biophysical aspects of the changes are given relatively short shrift. For example, effective carbon taxes are seen not as a biophysical benefit to the planet, but as an economic burden on humans.

This way of thinking appears to be a conditioned reflex across most cultures on the planet. Each of us has been trained to think this way since childhood, and this worldview is constantly reinforced by our cultures. Relatively few individuals have been able to break the bonds of this conditioning and see the world in biophysical terms. They tend to be viewed by society at large as radical extremists, or even as anti-human misanthropes.

In order to reverse our growing destruction of the biosphere we would have to reverse the growth of both our aggregate consumption and our population, and accept rapidly becoming fewer and poorer. As far as I can tell, we won't do either.

Developing a biophysical interpretation of the situation goes hand in hand with accepting that the die is cast. The looming question is not how to avoid a terminal outcome, but how we will each choose to act in the face of the inevitable death of our way of living.
Posted by The_jackalope | Tue Nov 26, 2019, 09:55 AM (17 replies)

If you create a Republic

You should expect Republicans...
Posted by The_jackalope | Sat Nov 23, 2019, 06:37 PM (1 replies)

Apocalypse Got You Down? Maybe This Will Help

Apocalypse Got You Down? Maybe This Will Help

Have you ever known someone who cited the Anthropocene in a dating profile? Who doled out carbon offset gift certificates at the holidays? Who sees new babies and immediately flashes to the approximately 15 tons of carbon emissions the average American emits per year? Who walks around shops thinking about where all the packaging ends up? You do now.

As much as I want to chain myself to an old-growth tree (thanks, “The Overstory”), my job at The Times precludes me from going all in as an activist. So I donate to environmental and humane causes, eat vegan, compost, take public transport, carry around bamboo utensils, post alarming articles on Facebook, buy second hand and stock up on offsets — all decisions I have the luxury to make. And yet none of it has been balm.

Asking some people around me how they were faring did not help. I heard that it was too late anyway. That I shouldn’t care since I don’t have kids. That the planet will, one distant day at least, be fine. One friend suggested that my climate angst was an extension of my melancholic leanings, which struck me as plausible, but not quite right. We know that the future is looking bad, that the present already is, and that inaction, especially here in America, is making it all worse. But how are we supposed to live in our hearts and souls with such an existential threat that is also, as birds and bees vanish and trees topple and die, so excruciatingly intimate?

Finally this fall, after a kayaking trip to Alaska prompted by a desire to see glaciers while they still exist — and being greeted by wildfires — I resolved to seek answers.

And what I learned, in the Red Hook workshop and in long conversations with psychologists, deep ecologists, an indigenous activist and Western Buddhists, was more or less a prescription for handling climate grief.

It looks like this: Live like the crisis is urgent. Embrace the pain, but don’t stop there. Seek out a spiritual path to forge gratitude, compassion and acceptance, because operating out of denial, anger or fear only hurts us in the end.

Zhiwa Woodbury, an eco-psychologist, believes that we are collectively experiencing climate trauma, of which we are both perpetrators and victims — our assault on the biosphere is an assault on ourselves. Altering habits like how we eat can make people feel more empowered and less overwhelmed, he said, and can shift our relationship with the natural world. After all, the belief that natural resources exist for our heedless exploitation got us to this point in the first place (and made us none the happier). “It makes us feel good that we’re doing something and it gets back to the idea of shared responsibility,” Mr. Woodbury said. “The idea that individuals are powerless only exists because we’ve made them feel powerless.”

Embracing the pain was something I struggled with more. Didn’t we deserve to feel bad? Maybe. But feeling despair is itself a kind avoidance. “What despair is telling you is that you haven’t processed your emotions,” Mr. Woodbury said.

In the Red Hook workshop, which used the pioneering decades-old work of the environmental grief activist Joanna Macy, the facilitator, Jess Serrante, said something that hit me like a thunderclap.

“Our pain for what is happening is the other side of the coin of our love for the world,” she told us. “We feel such depths of despair because we love the planet so much.”

Several psychologists told me they are telling the same thing to patients who are grappling with eco-despair: Feeling depressed about the crisis is actually a sane, healthy response. Yet as a culture, we pathologize depression as a personal failing, and as individuals, we avoid it, partly, Ms. Serrante said, out of the fear that if we dive in we won’t emerge. But that causes us to shut down. By jumping into the pain, it can alchemize into something bigger, Ms. Serrante told us, and reconnect us with our deepest selves.

The key is to channel it, through everyday actions or joining wider movements, and also to figure out a way to face it without being controlled by it, because operating out of fear, anger and blame burns us out. That is where the spiritual component comes in — to find a way to move to a place not of tacit acceptance, but of fierce, roaring compassion.

Mr. Woodbury and Mr. Leonard both got burned out by environmental advocacy and found emotional resilience in Buddhist practices and a more compassionate view of human nature. “There’s nothing more powerful than a broken heart, as long as you have a spiritual container to hold it,” Mr. Woodbury told me.

Afterward, stepping onto the baking sidewalk, I found myself paying greedy attention to the rustling trees, the flutter of teeny birds. I felt a visceral thrum of gratitude for what still exists, for what has to be fought for, while it still can be beheld.

As someone who has wrestled with ecological despair for the last 15 years, I can attest to the validity of the insights in this article. Especially resonant is Joanna Macy's observation, “Our pain for what is happening is the other side of the coin of our love for the world.” This realization has helped me more than anything, as I searched for reasons not to walk out on life.
Posted by The_jackalope | Sun Nov 17, 2019, 10:04 AM (8 replies)

For those who remember Pogo...

For Donald Trump, Friday the 13th is comes on a Wednesday this month.

House committees involved in the impeachment inquiry said Wednesday that the investigation will go public next week, with senior State Department officials scheduled for open hearings beginning November 13th.

Posted by The_jackalope | Thu Nov 7, 2019, 10:17 AM (5 replies)

The right wing succeeded in Canada yesterday.

The Conservatives won the popular vote by 1.5% - 34.5% to 33%.

Our Canadian bacon was only saved by our first-past-the-post system. If we had proportional representation that so many on the left want, we would now be back under a regressive, semi-authoritarian Conservative government.

However, there are two saving graces in the results. One is that Scheer didn't win enough seats; the other is that Trudeau has been forced into a minority position. Having to work with the NDP will be good for his humility, and good for Canada.
Posted by The_jackalope | Tue Oct 22, 2019, 07:14 AM (6 replies)

Just down the road

I recently moved to a small town in Quebec. It's just north of Ottawa, on the edge of the Gatineau hills. This image was taken last Saturday, about half a mile from where I now live.

Posted by The_jackalope | Tue Oct 15, 2019, 10:11 AM (11 replies)

Look at this map and think the words "food supply".

2°C: BEYOND THE LIMIT - Dangerous new hot zones are spreading around the world
Posted by The_jackalope | Mon Sep 16, 2019, 05:19 PM (3 replies)

Why Economic Collapse Will Precede Climate Collapse

Why Economic Collapse Will Precede Climate Collapse

It’s encouraging to see that the terms “climate crisis” and even “climate collapse”, which even five years ago were ridiculed as doomerism, are now considered perfectly reasonable descriptions of our current state. That doesn’t mean there is any consensus on how to address it, or any widespread willingness to change our lifestyle to match this new worldview. And it certainly doesn’t mean that climate collapse can be avoided or significantly mitigated. Still, it’s a start.

Lost in this new awareness, however, is that our global industrial economy is once again teetering on the edge of what will be a long drawn-out but ultimately permanent collapse. That’s a concern because if the more pervasive effects of economic collapse come first, there’s a good chance climate collapse will once again be ignored as our attention focuses on the more immediate existential crisis of economic suffering.

And it is very likely that the first dominoes of global economic collapse are, as a recent NYT article highlighted (sadly, behind a NYT paywall), about to fall. And the reasons for this are even more complex and even less understood than the reasons for climate collapse. Here are a few of them:


When economic crises are local, or when there are ways to re-jump-start the economy by correcting the underlying causes that led to the recession or depression, there are levers that can be used to intervene and restore the economy to health. But we used up the last of our available levers in 2008, and we are once again at the tipping point, and this time we are looking at a permanent and global economic collapse. We are finally going to have to face that our perpetual-growth, high-resource use, environmentally-ruinous, debt-faith-dependent economy was never sustainable, and was destined to collapse sooner or later. We will soon (probably in fits and starts over the next three decades or so) be forced to return to a radically relocalized, low-tech economy of sufficiency. It will not be a graceful transition.

In short, while climate collapse will render centralized, high-tech, high-energy use civilization unsustainable, and make much (and possibly all) of the planet uninhabitable, economic collapse will likely make our lives radically different, and will do so well before climate collapse weighs in with full force.

The collapse of our global industrial civilization will have two chapters. The economic collapse chapter will come first. The climate collapse chapter will just be the final blow. It’s unlikely that the survivors, by the end of this century, will be able to read this forecast, and it’s unlikely they will care about why or how it happened. They will be otherwise occupied.

More at the link.
Posted by The_jackalope | Tue Sep 10, 2019, 11:33 AM (10 replies)
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