The Miracle of The Moment/The Terror of The Now

Paul has never posted a comment as a separate page, to his webpage.  He thought this one by Greg had particular merit, so we appropriately create a section for it, so it can be shared in full, unedited or truncated.  I (dk) phoned him, to do due diligence, and found a real person, with a good heart and a clear, nimble mind who gets it. So, in full:

About the author: Greg Robie has learned enough from a generation worth of failures to effect social change to author this guest post and write this lament, Poet’s Lament.

He currently monitors abrupt climate change–and pursues a distracting homeostasis–by attempting brook trout aquaculture on a seasonally dry hillside in the Hudson River Valley.

This is the start of his fourth year of beating the odds. Due to El Niño’s lingering effect this year, and even with some of the trout breeding last fall, it may also be his first failure with this inane experiment.

He tends to be a realist…i.e. a glass-half-empty guy. In part this is because he is a guy and, as a guy, predilected to be addicted to fixing impossible problems…which, therefore, need to be made visible! He’s assembled a website of questions, insights, and efforts, at Open To Info.
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The Miracle of The Moment/The Terror of The Now
By Greg Robie

The purpose of this guest post is to share a metaphor that may help in thinking about what abrupt climate change constitutes. It also intends to offer a framework for evaluating strategic thinking regarding abrupt climate change.  I feel that fully grasping abrupt climate change requires an unflinching view of the nature of the social construct that has us, referencing lyrics from a song by The Who, hypnotized; unable to grasp the lie; fooled again and fools.

All human civilizations have collapsed. To assume this one won’t is to not learn from history…but, rather, repeat it. Historically, civilizations have been perceived as geo-political. By that definition, what is currently flash-frozen in its collapse, because it is global in nature, is more than a civilization. Waking up to this difference, and defining what it is that has effected the Anthropocene and abrupt climate change, is integral to avoiding pursuing ‘solutions’ that are really just doing the same thing–again–while expecting the results to be different; being fooled and fools.  So, if you’ve the inclination, and yet possess an attention span for wading through ~3000 words and these links, some facts and the metaphor.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports the third year of static carbon dioxide (CO2) emission levels approximating 32 GT/year (2013: 32.07 GT, 2014: 32.13 GT, 2015: 32.14 GT (Decoupling of global emissions and economic growth confirmed).  At the same time, neither the Mauna Loa Observatory nor any of the Scripps Institute CO2 Program atmospheric monitoring stations measured a leveling in CO2 emissions (Global Stations CO2 Concentration Trends).   In fact, 2015 yielded a record increase in atmospheric CO2 (Record annual increase of carbon dioxide observed at Mauna Loa for 2015).

Unless the IEA data is disingenuous, climate change’s start just got a bit easier to identify. Stressed sinks and new sources are still dynamic and complex, but we may now know the total they are [currently] adding up to. Therefore, to the degree this is so, a rocket’s launch, more so than a bathtub problem, is the metaphor to use when considering humanity’s situation. In addition, a critical known unknown may now be knowable: the point at which a trusted greed-as-good paradigm launched this species into its near-term extinction.

In the rocket metaphor, the solid fuel stage of the Anthropocene’s abrupt climate change’s rocket is ignited. Trusted Capitalism Fail has launched humanity into a David Bowie’s “Major Tom” ride to oblivion. Unlike this mashup of the Space Shuttle Program’s pictures with David’s song, there is no safe return.

The metric the IEA publishes concerning anthropogenic atmospheric carbon dioxide is a tabulation of nationally derived estimates of carbon dioxide emissions. In the US the fossil carbon companies self-report methane emissions associated with their production activities. Methane has a CO2e of 34 over 100 years, but initially, because it is chemically broken down into carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by a six step process over the course of about a decade, its CO2e is ~105. The self-reported figures for methane emissions associated fracking and fossil carbon production are, at best controversial. Non-industry data suggest significant under-reporting by the industry.

Atmospheric chemistry transforms methane, CH4, in conjunction with the hydroxyl radical (OH), in a multi-step process into CO2 over about a 10 – 12 year time span. Atmospheric methane has been rising and is now in excess of 1ppm above pre-industrial levels. Some of the ongoing increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, which the IEA metric would not be directly measuring, can be reasonably assigned to the increased methane when, after about a decade, it is in its CO2 iteration.

In addition, China is known to under-report its fossil carbon combustion since about 2000. Tentative effort to quantify its under-reporting suggest it could be as much as 17%. But some of this estimate, given the other variables discussed below, could be politically motivated: biased to obfuscate accountability by the consumers of the goods produced by those emissions. The blame game creates statistics that lie and liars who use statistics. As atmospheric carbon emissions continue to rise at record rates, does the discrepancy between CO2 measurement metrics quantify promulgated propaganda and duplicity, and/or are other factors in play?

The ‘development’ integral to the extractive, exploitative, and externalization-of-costs dynamics that Capitalism Fail commands, continues to effect land use changes. The consequentially created anthropogenic landscapes are less bio-diverse and less efficient, in terms of photosynthesis and CO2 removal, than the natural systems they displace. This economic behavior adds to atmospheric CO2 emission levels.

Industrial agriculture and traditional rice farming add carbon emissions to the atmosphere. What is being measured in the ongoing increase in atmospheric CO2 includes anthropogenic agriculture methane production…from a decade ago. That said, the decade of tabling in methane emissions adds more wrinkles to the bathtub-type problem needing to be ironed out. Changes in rice agriculture and the fossil carbon industries took credit for the decade of the leveling of methane emissions, but atmospheric methane is on the rise again. What might be behind the continued increase in atmospheric carbon content? To what degree might these be anthropogenic or natural sources of methane?

Existing carbon sinks that are being effected by the changing climate include ocean phytoplankton and tropical rainforests. A warming ocean has contributed to an average 1% per decade reduction in phytoplankton over a bit more than a century. Another metric of this change estimates a 40% reduction phytoplankton since 1950. Phytoplankton metabolism constitutes about half the photosynthetic uptake of carbon dioxide on the planet. Only a fraction of this captured carbon is sequestered.

This makes quantifying what this removal contributes to the ongoing increase in atmospheric CO2, at best, educated guesses. Changes in monsoon rain patterns are contributing to droughts in tropical rainforests, which, in turn, respond by going from net carbon sinks to net CO2 emitters. Again, quantifying this variable is a challenge. Somewhat mitigating these factors, at least in the short term, is the northward expansion of the boreal ecosystem in a rapidly warming Arctic.

New natural carbon sources are also increasingly appearing in the rapidly warming Arctic. Terrestrial and continental shelf permafrost is gaining heat and melting. Terrestrial permafrost is warming from an average -12.5°C while the continental shelf permafrost is warming up from an average -1° to -1.5°C temperature. The latent heat of ice is 144 BTU/lb (334 kJ/kg), so the warming seems to be slower than the warm up really is. For example, and using an indicator species and military aerial photographs, since the ’50s the permafrost line in Canada appears to have retreated north by around 50 miles.

Terrestrial permafrost loss is currently highly variable but it is declining. New Arctic wetlands and thawed soils are increasingly contributing carbon dioxide and methane to the atmosphere. The shift north of Gulf Stream waters into the Arctic Ocean, as well as increased freshwater drainage into it, are creating what researchers are ever more confident is a strongly exponential release of methane hydrates from continental shelf waters.

The most studied of the Arctic sea floor is the ESAS (East Siberian Arctic Shelf–Shakhova et al). In about a decade, plumes of methane coming from the continental shelf have gone from just reaching the surface in as much as a meter wide out gassing events (i.e. most of the release is absorbed in the water column), to surface out gassing events as much as a kilometer in diameter.

Humanity has been warned by scientists studying methane in the Arctic of as much as a 50 GT release being imminent. Relative to the IEA’s measured emissions, and a short term CO2e for methane of 105, the global warming equivalent of well over a century and a half of the current annual anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide could suddenly enter the atmosphere from a natural source. And, of course, increasing wildfires, not a threat, but a fact, and everywhere, need quantifying as well.

Which is to say that to the degree the discrepancies in metrics between the IEA and Scripps measurements are not industry and government propaganda, we are not in Kansas anymore. However, the Paris Agreement born of COP15-21 game theory strategy ‘success’ by the White House, now delimits ambition such that the parameters for acting on anthropogenic emissions relate to a world that once-upon-a-time might have been Kansas… but for Capitalism Fail’s Anthropocene with its abrupt climate change.

The precautionary principle has been demeaned and discarded. Wall Street and fossil carbon companies got everything they could wish for from this President. Reprehensible Republican deniers are not nearly the systemic problem that those who know there is a problem and blame inaction on the Republicans are.

Republican deniers are, thanks to motivated reasoning, true believers in Capitalism Fail. They act with moral integrity concerning the irresponsible greed in which they trust. Those scapegoating these deniers for the intractability of the political problems are doing little more than projecting onto others the faults another iteration of motivated reasoning and trust in Capitalism Fail blinds us to: irrational pragmatism; ambivalence; an expectation of muddling through.

Abrupt climate change is nature’s trump card in our inane game of Capitalism Fail. I am challenged, motivated reasoning withstanding, to see any way that it has not been played. Metaphorically, abrupt climate change is a solid fuel rocket engine. The first stage of this rocket of Capitalism Fail is the liquid oxygen stage (the massive tank the Space Shuttle is attached to in the earlier Bowie mashup). Traditionally the liquid oxygen stage is the second stage engine. Like the pre-abrupt climate change climate change, an oxygen fueled rocket engine is, technically, controllable.

The igniter for the solid fuel rocket engine in this metaphor is an altitude ignition switch. If liftoff is achieved, at some range of altitude (i.e. when anthropogenic and natural atmospheric carbon emissions get to some level in our bathtub-like problem) it is triggered. I think of this switch as being ordered by the US but made in China…the lowest bidder.

The instructions are in Chinese so it has never been calibrated…and, of course, liftoff was never intended nor expected to happen. And it looks like we have liftoff. Prometheus-like, we stupidly played with the stolen fire of the gods.  That mythical allusion is an appropriate lead-in to the second intent for this guest post: critiquing and developing a framework for evaluating strategic thinking regarding abrupt climate change.

Blind faith in Capitalism Fail, and blinding pragmatism concerning it, are, systemically, different and complimentary iterations of motivated reasoning within their supportive red/blue social psychologies. Together, they undergird and rationalize the current political inaction concerning the out-of-control heat engine that is human civilization.

Irresponsibly possessing the fire of the gods has set us upon this chosen path of self-destruction. Drawing on the allusion of another myth, like Icarus, we have, in our prowess and hubris, flown to near to the sun.

The existence of motivated reasoning as a neurological process suggests that our species cannot not be non-rational…and, more often than not, clueless about this condition. Apparently, the best we can do is become conscious of it. To the degree that which tends to trigger the irrationality of motivated reasoning is, systemically, one’s religion, Capitalism Fail is, functionally, a shared religion. What a culture is religious about, it avoids changing. Instead, a culture tend to collapse due to the irrationality of its motivated reasoning and the consequential failure to live responsibly. Change happens…but it happens as a consequence of an unintended paradigm shift.

Because of the global nature of Capitalism Fail, the sixth great extinction it has triggered will be the unintended, but chosen, change and the end of human history as we know it. To the degree this is so, and strategically ignored, Paul’s three legged stool will always be a few legs short, dynamic, and unstable.

But for motivated reasoning and moral psychology, Paul’s three legged stool concept is well considered. Because of that, my assertion about that stool can be hard to grasp, and/or easy to dismiss. In deference to this being a Canadian’s blog (and, perhaps, as a perceivable digression), the evolution of a song from The Guess Who, a Canadian rock group, has relevance for considering the framing of the strategic challenges of abrupt climate change.

The Guess Who’s song, “American Woman“, has a story. In a long ago interview I heard the band’s Burton Cummings say that in 1968 they had just returned from an tour in the United States. Being back in Canada felt great. The song’s lyrics was inspired by that feeling and ad-libbed at a concert, American Woman.

As a coming-of-age US citizen in the socially turbulent late ’60s and early ’70s, I experienced Cummings’ explanation of the lyrics as an allusion to the biblical whore of Revelations, Babylon the Great: Amerika (as she was sometimes called then). In Owen Sound, on a YMCA Hi-Y exchange program, I’d been told by my Canadian peers of the national inferiority complex Canadians experienced by living in our shadow. For a Canadian to experience revulsion toward the United States and her behavior made sense to me. I felt it.

But this shadow, she seduced…and seduces.  Time moves on. As gray-haired rockers (though Cummings apparently dyes his hair) The Guess Who continue to perform the song. The lyrics have been expanded. As Cummings apparently now talks about them, they are a very indirect (Canadian?) way of making the song an ode to Canadian girls. Obfuscated is the initial feeling and insight into what Bertram Gross would write about Capitalism Fail in his 1980 book _Friendly Fascism_. Is “American Woman” being spun and remembered as some iteration of The Beach Boys’ “California Girls”; as a backhanded plea to this Canadian band’s groupies?  The Guess Who – All 14 minutes of “American Woman.”

Capitalism Fail is a pall that wraps us all. She smothers idealism. She veils and waylays honor. She is, when you can’t get what you want, our good-as-it-gets that meets a need. She is greed-as-go[o]d. She is no savior. She is all the Sirens whose songs lure us sailors to our death. She is a praying mantis eating all who worship her. And, thanks to motivated reasoning, we are legion. With my point made, or at least alluded to, this digression (or not) ends.

Back to facts and fears.  In a radio report about the International Scientific Congress on climate change meeting in Copenhagen in March of 2009 (publication here: ‘How the Copenhagen Diagnosis Came to be Written‘), I heard that there are only about 20 scientists world-wide who are specialized in the study of methane. If so, the educated who can knowledgeably cry wolf are few. The initial thermal dynamic modeling done in the ’80s identified CO2 as the primary [anthropogenic] greenhouse gas. Research money has followed suit…and careers have chased this skirt.

What passes for news about our changing climate follows in this dance. Relative to the metaphor of a bathtub problem, anthropogenic methane has been labeled (at pre-fracking levels) as a secondary greenhouse gas that the economy of Capitalism Fail dumps into the atmosphere. Relative to the solid fuel rocket engine metaphor and abrupt climate change methane has, in fact, and from formerly sequestered natural sources, twin billing with carbon dioxide as a primary greenhouse gas.

Abrupt climate change has been, for the first generation of climate modeling scientists, a ‘future’ risk. Any focus on it detracts from the task at hand: pointing out the importance of controlling anthropogenic carbon emissions: manage our spaceship’s rocket’s ‘controllable’ engine. As abrupt climate change becomes visible in the current data, motivated reasoning tend to function to ‘disappear it’ among too many of these scientists. Their work has been about the ‘important’ stuff! Few are the scientists who can critique trusted assumptions upon which a career has been predicated. The Gavin/Shakhova conflict concerning the Royal Society gathering the fall of 2014 is a recent and egregious example of this (‘Russian Scientists Excluded From Presenting Important Research As NASA Goddard Director Tries To Discredit Observational Scientific Research‘).

The early definition of abrupt climate change was such that it can’t exist until it is too late to do anything about it (see U.S. Climate Change Science Program).  With that definition of abrupt climate change, the work of the world’s smattering of methane scientists becomes twice irrelevant. What the study of methane turns up will, by convention, not be as important as what is happening with CO2…until this isn’t true. In the siloed world of academia, the silo studying methane is tiny. The existence of AEMG, which Paul has championed, is, in part, a recognition of this.

In addition, nerds, and the current model for funding careers in research science, affect strutting roosters who crow about minutia. Specialists, not generalists, are promulgated. This effects a culture where brilliance exists concurrently within social isolation…or the social dynamic that all too many research scientists have always experienced. Only generalists, like Paul, and who are not vested in an academic dynamic, are oriented to recognized and talk about abrupt climate change at its earliest stage.

And the IEA graph reveals a bias born of eyes “sparkled” by the ‘American Woman’. The IEA labels, as an “economic downturn“, what was the flash freezing of the collapse of Capitalism Fail. Something like $600 trillion in financial derivatives vaporized and only ‘quantitative easing’ (i.e. just printing money) and nationalizing the major insurance company for all those derivatives (AIG), dropping the prime interest rate to zero, and central banks receiving loans from other central banks in their own currency, has kept the 1% from doing a Yurtle-the-Turtle mud dive to join the rest of humanity in the muck and mire of our climate destroying economic paradigm.

The flash freezing shenanigans employed in the flash freezing have included allowing at least a quadrupling of the very derivatives that caused the blowup. This, as a ‘recovery’, is reflected in an increased GDP. Does the GDP measure economic activity that meaningfully relates to human well being…or are we being fooled again; willingly being fools?

Regardless, with the shenanigans, Yurtle’s tower of power is now far higher. The muddy mash pit below is drying out with abrupt climate change. When the music finally stops and the flash frozen collapse thaws, Yurtle’s re-entry speed as the tower tumbles will yield a turtle flyspeck on the windshield of the former pond’s hard pan. How’s that for a mixture of metaphors to visualize our future and frame strategic thinking’s constraints?

Since the popularizing of the concept of the paradigm shift in the ’70s, the term has too often been overused. Effective strategic thinking concerning abrupt climate change will confirm this. The politically paired red/blue social responses to the concept of abrupt climate change point to motivated reasoning being a neurological adaptation that protects the human psyche from unbearable stress. The current dominate global paradigm is Capitalism Fail. Thanks to motivated reasoning, it is also a functional religion.

Logically, therefore, only an effected shift in the world’s functional religion can challenge and change the social aspect of the current trusted paradigm. (Secular liberal humanist psychological circuit breakers should be popping right about now…if any have read this far!) What an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals know doesn’t exist will arise from the collapse and chaos of a paradigm shift they’ve unwittingly been the master minds for.

So, significantly, in the scientific sense of the term, re-religioning matters. Psychologically this is something that is concurrently The Impossible AND The Inevitable.

Grasp the present’s gift
The Moment: a miracle
Now abject terror