Guest post: Epitaph for a species

Written By: - Date published: 9:00 am, January 20th, 2019 - 69 comments
Categories: climate change, disaster, Environment, global warming, science, sustainability - Tags:

In a guest post Tony Veitch [not etc.] imagines his last few days as the world dies …

You know, now that I’ve finally decided to write something, I don’t quite know how to begin.

Well, that’s not technically correct, both because writing is a purely mechanical process, and because I have already begun. A number of years ago I bought a metal container for another purpose; screw on ends, about thirty centimetres long. It will accept quite a few rolled up pages, I expect.

Ha! Not that I think, these final words, will be long and I’ll try hard to make them not tedious. Not that I expect them ever to be read. But then, who knows?

So, here goes. A little about myself, by way of introduction. I’m nearly eighty-five years old, so you can do the maths and figure out when I was born. Yes, during the Second World War, so that makes me one of the so-called ‘baby boomers;’ the generation that screwed the world. Well, the generation that gets the blame anyway.

At eighty-five, I’ve lived a long life and, I must admit, a pretty satisfying one. I’ve nothing, nothing to complain about, compared to some poor people who lived in more disturbed areas. Oh, like all people who live as long as I have, I’ve had my share of personal tragedy; my wife of forty-three years died in the last great epidemic that swept this country a couple of years ago. And I’ve lost touch with two of our three children, both of whom live overseas. Or lived.

So what I really want to do is just put down on paper for no-one to read (!) the events of the last few years, as I remember them. I may be a bit hazy over some of the sequences and even some of the dates, put that down to old age and the onset of dementia perhaps, though I have some excuse for events have moved fast and . . . yes, furiously.

I think that’s the most disturbing thing; the speed with which the world has succumbed to accelerated climate change.

I mean, let’s go back a dozen years or so, to say 2015. It wasn’t at all uncommon to find people, businessmen, politicians, denying that climate change was even real. One American president called it ‘fake news’ as I recall, and they don’t come any more powerful or influential than an American president. Goodness, he’d be about my age if he’s still alive, which I doubt, all contact with North America was lost over six months ago.

I remember, about the same time, a big United Nations conference saying quite explicitly we had between three and twelve years to fix the problem and, here we are, barely ten years later, over-whelmed by a problem which was still considered fixable.

We still had politicians, ten years ago, talking of making this country carbon neutral by twenty-fifty. And I can recall an election promise to make New Zealand rodent free by the same date. Well, that election pledge is likely to be achieved, though not perhaps in a way the politicians intended.

So, what went so seriously wrong? How could climate change get so out of control that more than ninety-nine per cent of humanity has already perished and the remaining one per cent is just waiting, like me, to die?

Well, I’m just an ordinary person with moderate intelligence and a smattering of learning. Which is to say, I really don’t understand how it all got so out of control.

But I do remember, ten years or so ago, climate scientists warning of tipping points. By this, if I understood correctly, they meant that when one thing happened, another thing was going to happen because the first thing made the second inevitable.

For example, when 400 ppm of CO2  was breached, it followed that the sea ice in the Arctic would also shrink, say by a third. This in turn would affect . . . and so on. All very complicated and scientific. I like to think of it as the snowball metaphor. Small at the top of the hill, it gathers momentum as it moves downwards; begins as just a handful and ends the size of a house and quite destructive.

And that, I gather, is what happened to the climate. Change begat more change, which triggered even bigger changes, which set in motion larger variations and so on.

So, what did happen?

Well, for some time in the mid 2010s there were indications of erratic weather behaviour. Things like the hottest January since records began, the heaviest rainfall in a twenty-four hour period, the most lightening strikes in an hour, that sort of thing. Nothing to be alarmed about, and only incidentally coupled to climate change. At least, not at first.

Another thing I remember is the beginning of the migrations. Nothing, of course, to the vast hordes who were on the move five years or so ago, but seemingly big numbers at the time.

I did read somewhere that even these early movements were caused by climate change; crop failures which drove farmers into cities seeking sustenance and the subsequent breakdown of society caused by the strains of mass unemployment.

These migrations, which seemed to be a flood when they were happening, soon became a deluge in, I think, 2019 or 2020. Widespread drought causing poor harvests across the Middle East and Africa north of the Sahara, and even down into tropical Africa; similar poor crop yields in India and Central America and north of the Amazon basin, drove about one billion people to move. Other factors came into play too, which I’ll mention later, if I remember.

So, during the northern summer of either 2019 or 2020, millions of people were displaced. Europe and North America were the favoured destinations; the Tibetan plateau effectively isolating the Indian sub-continent. Countless millions (and I mean that literally) died of starvation and other factors in India. As many in attempting to cross the Sahara and the Mediterranean; hundreds of thousands came to grief on the Mexican border with the United States where, from an American point of view, President Trump’s much maligned wall stemmed the flood for a while.

Of course, the migration (and many many succeeded in getting in) of so many people to Europe in particular, simply overwhelmed the civil authorities in those countries bordering the Mediterranean and further north. Drastic measures, often vigilante in nature, were enacted and practised to block the flow and for a while, in 2021 if I recall correctly, complete chaos prevailed in most of the nations of southern and central Europe. Even the United Kingdom took to sinking (unofficially) refugee vessels in the English Channel!

Such the scale of the problem.

But two other factors, both climate related, impacted on the people of the tropics. The first a phenomenon known as ‘wet bulb’ temperature. As I understand it, this occurs when the body can’t sweat enough to cool itself and simply overheats. If (or when) this happens, people die.

During 2020 and subsequent years much of the tropical area of the Earth experienced ‘wet bulb’ temperatures during the hottest months (which is to say, most of the year). Simply put, to stay was to die.

Another factor was the frequency and strength of hurricanes (or cyclones or typhoons. And tornados on the American mainland). The extreme storm season lasted longer and with such severity that category 5 was succeeded by category 6 and even category 7 was proposed before contact was lost. Many of the islands of the Caribbean, for instance, were so battered by storms they had to be abandoned.

So millions and millions began to move away from these hot areas in search of somewhere to live.

Yet another consequence of climate change had a further impact on these migrations. Areas north and south of the tropics entered a long period of sustained drought. These had been occurring for several years before the worst effect happened. Large areas of the Sudan and Mali and a host of other countries which have now disappeared, the great wheat growing fields of eastern Europe and Canada all experienced a couple of seasons with almost no rain.

By 2020, I think, or maybe 2021, famine stalked the Earth like a grim reaper!

By 2021 too, civil disorder was creating chaos in much of Europe and North America. Millions of migrants died, denied the most basic of necessities like food and shelter by local people already under great food stress.

At the same time, the world entered one of its cyclical times of economic decline. Stock markets withered for months, investment dwindled and unemployment rose dramatically. At a time when buoyant world economies might, just might have coped with food shortages and a huge influx a migrants, most of the world’s economies were stagnant at best, or in full retreat in some cases, notably China.

In subsequent years, 2025 I think it was, communication with the northern hemisphere became, well, let’s just say curtained. Most airlines, for instance, flying from New Zealand to Europe, touched down in Singapore or the Gulf States. But both these areas became early casualties of both outward migration and local over-heated (wet bulb) conditions. Incidentally, parts of Europe also suffered from extremely high temperatures, causing many heat-related deaths. Fewer people, tourists, chose to travel to Europe during periods of riot and revolution. Until this country closed its borders in early 2025, aeroplanes flew nearly empty to Europe and North America, and returned full.

I think by early 2024 even the most obtuse politician in New Zealand and world-wide realised the situation had become dire. Frantic scrambles were enacted to correct the previous neglect, but what could be done?

Then entered another horseman of the apocalypse: disease. Whether migrants carried disease with them, or the diseases themselves migrated from the tropics on the backs of insects, or even something mythical like Mother Nature or God made an effort at the last minute to avert the tragedy, pandemics swept the northern hemisphere and eventually the southern as well. Rather like the ‘Spanish flu’ which killed about as many, I believe, as conflict during World War I, so a type of flu called ‘Asian’ reached New Zealand in late 2023 with horrifying mortality. My beloved wife died but I, for some reason, though afflicted, survived. To my shame, she was buried in a mass grave in one of the public parks here in Christchurch. As many as sixty or seventy per cent of those who contracted the disease, died, a truly terrifying rate. And other diseases ran riot too, exploiting the famine weakened bodies, though none of the virulent tropical ones took hold in this country, except for some outbreaks of dengue fever in the far north.

So, by the end of 2025, behold our little country. It’s migration swollen population reduced, I recall, to less than one million; it’s borders closed; all international trade suspended, watching fearfully, though with already disrupted communications, what was unfolding to the north.

As many as six billion people may have perished from one cause or another by the beginning of 2027. That figure I made up, based on the mortality rate for New Zealand and adding a few hundred millions. There is simply no way of knowing the true death number.

But, and here I am into more supposition, because there is no evidence one way or the other, there would be no reason why one billion people couldn’t have resurrected some sort of new civilization on the ruins of the old. Something else happened; another trigger point was reached and surpassed. That conclusion doesn’t take any amount of genius; a cloud of methane is creeping steadily southwards, extinguishing all like in its path.

Scientists warned us of the vast amount of methane locked in the permafrost of Northern Canada and Siberia. One can only speculate that at some point the temperature got so warm that this methane began to be released, and in increasing volumes.

All of the above begs the question: could mankind have avoided this, the ultimate tragedy?

The answer, unfortunately, is probably not. Oh, I’m sure something could have been achieved way back in the 1970s when the oil companies suspected, or knew, their product was warming the planet. Maybe even in 1988 when some chap called Hansen, if my memory serves me well, warned the US Congress of the consequences of temperature rise. By 2000, or 2010 it was all probably too late. But if we, mankind, had collectively given up all fossil fuelled vehicles world wide around those dates, perhaps. But, as we all know, there never was a possibility of that happening.

So this end, this senseless self-immolation by the human species was always probably inevitable. The other thing is the speed with which our climate went to pieces. Even as late as 2020 myopic politicians were talking of economic growth and of targets in the 2030s and 2050s. None had the foresight to see that it was all going to end in custard; how could any politician ‘sell’ that message at election time? To be fair, not many people were preaching impending doom, not until a couple of years later, in 2022 when the alarm bells were ringing insistently, when the flow of over-stayers into this country precipitated the crisis, a couple of years later, which led, far too late, to the closing of our borders. By then, the first of the pandemics had cut a broad swathe through the population.

The methane cloud is being inexorably driven southwards by the general rotation of the Earth, literally extinguishing life as it rolls over communities. How much longer have I, we, in Christchurch got? Should I move to Invercargill or even Stewart Island, as many have done, putting off the inevitable?

No, at eighty-five I’ve got so few years left anyway, any effort to extend my time by a few days or weeks seems pointless. I feel no sadness for myself; I feel real sorrow for the children and young people. They had no part in the creation of this mess, yet they will suffer consequences out of all proportion to their ‘crime.’

As for myself, I have a bottle of brandy which I’ve horded for just this occasion, and two full bottles of sleeping pills. Unlike Dylan Thomas famously enjoined us not to do, I do intend to go ‘gently into the night.’ Incidentally, I’m amazed so few people chose suicide; probably events moved too fast for them to make the decision to kill themselves. Or maybe there were many more than have been recorded in the chaos of these last eighteen months?

But first, before the gas cloud finally rolls over this city, and I can still breathe outside, I’ll seal this, my last futile gesture, into the stainless steel cylinder and bury it in the garden.

Then I’ll retire to my book collection and re-read some of my favourite works of fiction. I’ll probably grieve a little for the world which has been lost, and calmly wait for the end. It can only be a matter of days.

Goodbye.

69 comments on “Guest post: Epitaph for a species”

  1. Roy 1

    Sad post indeed. Presidente Ocasio-Cortez made a decent fist of it though, trying to pull off an emissions u-turn. Maybe there are still a few of the hyper-forest habitats left in New Canada. I lost track when the Cyber-enhanced neo-Musk-ovites stormed the Capitol and imposed their robot-first policy, making human needs irrelevant.

    Still it’s ironic to think that the Bezos-Gates starship holds the record for despair – 100% suicide rate, in less than 3 months. It’s as if the men aboard never read “Stark”.

  2. Dennis Frank 2

    “I’m nearly eighty-five years old, so you can do the maths and figure out when I was born. Yes, during the Second World War”. Well Tony, I did the math & arrived at 1934 as the year you were born. Half a decade before WWII started!

    Anyway, while you mull over that anomaly, I’ll keep reading, having only just begun… 😎

    “I mean, let’s go back a dozen years or so, to say 2015.” Ah, I get it. So you’re writing as if in the late 2020s. I better shut up & just read it all then, eh?

  3. Robert Guyton 3

    Well that’s cheered me up no end!
    Well written though, Tony Veitch [not etc.] and certainly comprehensive; like being crushed by a falling building 🙂
    Makes me pleased I live in Southland though 🙂

  4. Dennis Frank 4

    Okay, that’s quite an epitaph, indeed! Words fail me. Evocative of a future produced by rapid system-change, rather than the more-likely staged transition I’m anticipating.

    Very well-written, Tony. Deserves a print publication somewhere, for sure. Dunno if there’s enough younger readers on this blog for it to serve as a wake-up call. And the lesson – which is the irrelevance of democratic political process – will almost certainly be lost on most readers. They cling to it as if they are two-year-olds clinging to a security blanket.

    • One Two 4.1

      Hi Dennis,

      I would more anticipate that TV’s view is a more likely outcome…I say this because in the article (which is quite something) trajectory does not mention (possibly by choice) the attempts of sections of our species who are actively interfering with weather…

      It seems improbable that weather experimentation (ego-engineering) has been going on for considerable periods of time, and therefore is a probable contributor to the relatively recent (+/- 10,15 years) of amplified extreme patter of weather and ‘record breaking’ ‘events’…

      Regardless of what people believe may or may not being experimented on, outside of public awareness (because that is who such activities exist), there certainly is going to be technological attempts at remediation…..who knows what consequences occur once this is acknowledged as ‘already going on’….

      Staged transition, as much as positive mindset should be maintained…is almost out of view….my opinion….

      Thanks to TV for this very thought provoking read…

      • Dennis Frank 4.1.1

        System transformation is happening, but the overall process is too complex to simplify. The rapid-change prognosis derives from top-down causation cascading through Gaia down into sub-systems at all levels.

        Given that Gaia is already responding, the question becomes one of which sub-systems shift when. Complexity theory tells us that complex systems shift rapidly between stable states in response to environmental pressures, but the timing of these shifts is inherently unpredictable. Causation in such systems is indeterminate. Linear extrapolation of current trends is likely to mislead folks, due to being invalid in such contexts.

        Add the inertial effect of human social systems to the inertial effect of resilient ecosystems, and we get a picture of stability enduring in some systems while others get pushed towards triggering points. The assumption of triggering points being reached simultaneously is naive. Any cascade of consequences is more likely to take time, via the build-up of pressures in the affected sub-systems. Isolated instances of islands of stability will persist (such as the Amish).

        That’s the staged transition I referred to. I agree the IPCC has been too cautious, but they have to work with the retarding frame-work of democracy, so they’ve ended up being part of the problem as much as part of the solution. But to assume they got it totally wrong seems unwise. A rapid shift such as Tony describes seems more likely to me than the consensus prognosis that democracy has incorporated into global planning, but I’m not inclined to assume it true.

        • One Two 4.1.1.1

          Agree with most all of what you say there…

          System transformation is happening, but the overall process is too complex to simplify. The rapid-change prognosis derives from top-down causation cascading through Gaia down into sub-systems at all levels

          Levels which IPPC modeling (that could be terribly incorrect) can’t, and doesn’t understand…it is not designed to….IPCC are gatekeepers…as much problem as any other BAU entity…

          Such as these things go, the focus and narrative is narrow..deliberately… the same approach witnessed in most all ‘science’ related subject matter…

          Business as usual will maintain its strangle hold until the bitter end…whatever that becomes….status quo is not capable of standing down…momentum and other factors , unperceived to the naked eye…un-relatable to a curious mind…

          I have made multiple references to 5G in recent times…I do this because, IMO 5G represents the unveiled face of business as usual….

          5G is a system that is designed for machines….it is not designed for human beings, biosphere or environment…and it represents what business as usual is transitioning towards…

          If 5G can’t be recognized for what it represents, and the deployment can’t be halted by humanity…then it will be down to the timeline of Gaia to do so….

          At that point in time….it is well and truly over…that is how close ‘we’ are…

          But hey, how about that ‘US Shutdown’ thread eh…

          • Dennis Frank 4.1.1.1.1

            I’m interested, but uninformed. If 5G is a devil-in-the-detail technology, and worse than most as you seem to imply, then people can only react to consequences as they happen. Fear-based protest has never worked as a general strategy. Technology is deployed via cost-benefit analysis. If the utility outweighs the threat of harm, it’ll happen.

            I did check the wikipedia page & in the health & safety section they only had this: “The World Health Organization states that “A large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk. To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use.” In a 2018 statement, the FDA said that “the current safety limits are set to include a 50-fold safety margin from observed effects of radiofrequency energy exposure”.

    • Pat 4.2

      …’a staged transition’ to what?

      • Dennis Frank 4.2.1

        A sustainable society, I hope. But to unpack the term a little, I meant it as applying to both what we do and what nature does. Gaia has way more power & influence than us, so the stages it enters into will be primary. Any that humanity enters into will be secondary.

        The latter depend on modus operandi. How we respond via collaboration. How the economy responds to political and environmental shifts. Technology is a factor in the latter, but the gnosis around applying it is even more so. Can we transcend the addiction to democracy? We know it has failed, yet some people still believe it will save us.

        Can’t solve the problem via delusional thinking. Have to crowd-source the wisdom to design an alternative, but no sign folks are sufficiently desparate to do that yet. Further suffering is obviously essential – to trigger the shift.

        • Pat 4.2.1.1

          I think the very obvious point that TV’s look back from the future is presenting is the possibility of any staged (managed) transition was lost some decades ago, let alone in some near panicked future…..im inclined to agree with him

          • Dennis Frank 4.2.1.1.1

            I disagree. As I explained elsewhere, complexity science suggests causation can’t be assumed to operate in a linear cascade downwards from the level of Gaia. Each subsystem has it’s own inherent indeterminacy. Some will be closer to trigger points than others.

            Logic of how holistic relationships operate applies too. Subsystems, as parts of any whole system, operate in general coordination by the whole, yet that coordination is only generally simultaneous. That’s why parts of our body sometimes malfunction. Out for a walk, your general coordination gets the whole body home simultaneously, but sometimes with a limp when something happens on the way.

            So we can’t assume Gaia will take everything into rapid-shift mode. More likely Gaia’s shift will be rapid from a geologic time perspective, but we’ll experience it as staged due to some regions and ecosystems being more resilient and resisting pressure better than others.

            • Pat 4.2.1.1.1.1

              Gaia…or earth systems are not the critical issue….it is the collapse of the man made systems and the human response that will create the disaster. Human beings are not at their best under survival pressure and to expect otherwise is unrealistic to be polite. Zen tends to disappear in such circumstance.

              • Dennis Frank

                Yep, definitely! I read a few classic stories about the descent in savagery resulting from the failure of civilisation when I was adolescent in the early sixties, such as this one: “Sixty Days to Live (1939) focuses on scenes of chaos in London as the Comet approaches which will destroy human civilization”.

                • Drowsy M. Kram

                  The Machine Stops (E. M. Forster; published 1909)

                  Not exactly on point, but a great read, as is Tony’s evocative glimpse of a possible future NZ.

                  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Machine_Stops

                  Finally, the Machine apocalyptically collapses, bringing ‘civilization’ down with it. Kuno comes to Vashti’s ruined room. Before they perish, they realise that humanity and its connection to the natural world are what truly matter, and that it will fall to the surface-dwellers who still exist to rebuild the human race and to prevent the mistake of the Machine from being repeated.

  5. gsays 5

    Well done and thank you Tony.

    Strong imagery and plenty to ponder.
    Keep it up.

    • Dennis Frank 6.1

      The important thing to do at times like that is to cut to a commercial break. That gives viewers the chance to return to normalcy. Speaking truth to power can have consequences, but they need not be more than temporary…

  6. You’ve lost touch with two of your children? Sort that out fast mate.

  7. RedLogix 8

    Well written. I’m not sure the ‘cloud of methane’ thing is at all technically plausible and this detracted a bit from it for me. But that’s a quibble; symbolically it’s perfectly reasonable.

    There are two types of motivation; desire for the positive outcome of acting, and fear of the consequences of not acting. Both have their place; indeed the latter is probably the more powerful.

    • Draco T Bastard 8.1

      I’m not sure the ‘cloud of methane’ thing is at all technically plausible and this detracted a bit from it for me.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Nyos_disaster

      But I do get your point.

      There are two types of motivation; desire for the positive outcome of acting, and fear of the consequences of not acting. Both have their place; indeed the latter is probably the more powerful.

      As I learned when reading Dune, even doing nothing is an action.

      • Dennis Frank 8.1.1

        As I learned when reading Dune, even doing nothing is an action.

        That’s really interesting. I read it when it first appeared, too dim now to access but I don’t recall learning that! Could just mean it’s there and I was already familiar with zen via popular culture so took it for granted. Excellent book, even if the multitude of follow-ups diluted the effect.

        Btw, doing nothing in response to blog commenter hostility is often the best action you can take. You’ve probably noticed that. Hostile folk go looking for a target to vent on. Give it to them and they go straight into schoolyard psychodrama polarisation, as if emoting can pass for intelligent discourse. 🙄 So do zen & they can flail around trying to figure out why the target vanished. Eventually they’ll suss out that recycling juvenile stances is counter-productive, and feel better…

        • Draco T Bastard 8.1.1.1

          I read it when it first appeared, too dim now to access but I don’t recall learning that!

          It was a scene where Muad’Dib was sitting in a hall, looking at all possible futures from where he sat and he realised that even sitting there doing nothing had its consequences as his own non-action would influence other people’s actions.

          It’s basic Chaos Theory.

          • Robert Guyton 8.1.1.1.1

            I too, was a reader of Dune. The worm-avoiding “shuffle-walk” across the sand interested me. A recent visitor here teaches invisibility, at various levels. That’s interesting also.

        • greywarshark 8.1.1.2

          Event-ually. Perhaps there should be a monthly event along those lines of counter-productivity DF.

    • Tony Veitch [not etc.] 8.2

      Re the cloud of methane. I really have no idea how that might eventuate, not being a scientist.

      But I (I admit) lifted the idea from Nevil Shute’s ‘On the Beach.’ The radiation rolling southwards after the northern hemisphere had nuked itself.

      • RedLogix 8.2.1

        Yes I did think it inspired by Shute’s novel. More importantly it works as a narrative; that’s what people respond to.

    • patricia bremner 8.3

      Look it up.Tonnes of methane under the frozen tundra which will escape and there is even more under the ice, Very plausible.

      • Dennis Frank 8.3.1

        Plausibility questionable unless there’s a huge pulse emission, with a lateral trajectory driven by cyclones or storms. Normally it drifts upward or gets absorbed. Here’s a relevant extract from a review by a team of scientists:

        “The main loss process for atmospheric CH4 is oxidation in the troposphere
        initiated by reaction with OH, especially in the strong sunlight in the tropics.
        This oxidation, too, is highly influenced by meteorological variation. In the
        presence of sufficient NOx, for example, in pollutant clouds from highly populated areas with strong transport emissions, this atmospheric oxidation process leads to tropospheric O3 formation, another strong greenhouse gas and atmospheric oxidant. Other processes that contribute minor CH4 removal from the troposphere are upward loss to the stratosphere, and oxidation by methanotrophic bacteria in soils, each contributing about 30 Tg CH4 /yr loss. Methanotrophs are also important in the oceans where they can oxidize into CO2 a significant fraction of CH4
        emitted from seeps on the seabed, before it reaches the atmosphere.”
        https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/pdf/10.1098/rsta.2010.0341

      • RedLogix 8.3.2

        I understand that; and while melting tundra certainly poses a very real risk in terms of greenhouse gases, as a first order guess I doubt it would release enough methane to form a global ‘toxic cloud’.

        Andre’s comment below is probably close to the correct answer.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atmospheric_methane

        On thinking about it; a massive release of Hydrogen Sulfide from within the ocean depths might work better as a narrative device. Definitely toxic.

      • Andre 8.3.3

        Uhh, the mass of the atmosphere is 5 x 10^18 kg.

        The mass of methane stored in arctic and seabed clathrates is up to 15 000 gigatonnes according to wikipedia, by my mental calc that’s 1.5 x 10^16 kg.

        Release it over a very short period and the concentration of methane in the atmosphere would get to around 0.3% by weight or nearly 1% by volume. That would cook us in a few short years through global warming, but it wouldn’t suffocate us, poison us, or blow us up.

    • Andre 8.4

      Well, methane isn’t toxic to humans. It’s hazardous because of explosivity, or if there’s so much it displaces enough oxygen to become an asphyxiant.

      Concentrations between 5% and 15% in air are explosive, concentrations above 20% would be needed for asphyxiation.

      I suggest that if there were enough methane getting released to become hemispherically hazardous (beyond the warming issue), a big kaboomie would get us before it smothered us.

      • Dennis Frank 8.4.1

        Methane stays in the atmosphere around nine years. That’s a blip compared to normal geomorphic process periods.

        “No one has proposed any mechanism for releasing methane that wouldn’t take centuries, not just a few years.” https://www.carbonbrief.org/how-likely-is-a-huge-arctic-methane-pulse-we-find-disagreement-among-scientists

        No room for complacency, however: “While scientists are often keen to warn about ‘unknown unknowns’ and tipping points in the climate system, the likelihood of such methane pulses is hotly contested among experts who work in this area.”

        • Andre 8.4.1.1

          Yeah, it’s got a short lifetime and there’s not much of it in the air so far. It’s still scary as hell though.

          Consider that the anthropogenic increase in methane is measured in parts per billion, yet that increased methane we’re responsible for causes around 20% to 30% of observed warming so far.

          Now ponder there’s enough methane that could be released so that it might be measured in parts per thousand. Hell, we only measure CO2 in parts per million.

          • Dennis Frank 8.4.1.1.1

            I agree. Got spooked by that big-time after Hansen came and delivered his final warning here, and I did plenty of catch-up reading in consequence, to get up to speed again. Seeing a photo of those power poles at 45 degrees in melting permafrost. Reading about the belching effect, in which huge bubbles well up from the ocean floor, and small ships disappear into them as they break surface! 😱 🐳

            • patricia bremner 8.4.1.1.1.1

              Dennis I have read in a scientific journal that monitoring of belches of methane is ongoing now, near the Arctic, and they are growing larger.
              The tenor was it is more dangerous than C02 as it would amplify conditions.
              I don’t come from a scientific background, but still grasp that 80% of scientists are seriously concerned and have appealed to world governments but so far action is a sticking plaster on a possibly mortal wound.
              PS I can’t recall the heading of the article or paper
              being 77 does that at times, and I’m learning to walk in hospital with my new hip at present.

              • Dennis Frank

                Some reassurance here: “There’s been loads of media hype regarding the Arctic “methane bomb,” an idea that rising temperatures could cause a pulse of ancient methane, locked in permafrost and frozen hydrates on the ocean floor, to escape to the atmosphere, triggering catastrophic global warming. Well, we have some positive news for you: a new study finds little evidence to support this scenario playing out in at least one fast-warming part of the world.” https://earther.gizmodo.com/well-at-least-one-catastrophic-climate-scenario-is-loo-1822191077?IR=

                “A review paper published last year found “no conclusive proof that hydrate-derived methane is reaching the atmosphere now,” which supports that study. Since the permafrost is melting increasingly faster, I wonder why the methane escaping into the atmosphere is not accounted for by the relevant scientists.

                Ah, I see. It looks like the soil chemistry interface is the key, and learning about this is current. “According to the scientists: The permafrost soils of Northern Europe, Northern Asia and North America could produce up to 1 gigaton of methane and 37 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2100. But there are uncertainties. To what depth will the soil actually thaw by then? Will it be wet or dry?”

                Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2018-03-permafrost-methane.html#jCp

                • patricia bremner

                  Thank you Dennis I will read that .

                • Draco T Bastard

                  Unexpected future boost of methane possible from Arctic permafrost

                  Using a combination of computer models and field measurements, Walter Anthony and an international team of U.S. and German researchers found that abrupt thawing more than doubles previous estimates of permafrost-derived greenhouse warming. They found that the abrupt thaw process increases the release of ancient carbon stored in the soil 125 to 190 percent compared to gradual thawing alone. What’s more, they found that in future warming scenarios defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, abrupt thawing was as important under the moderate reduction of emissions scenario as it was under the extreme business-as-usual scenario. This means that even in the scenario where humans reduced their global carbon emissions, large methane releases from abrupt thawing are still likely to occur.

                  Seems that the knowledge on methane release is still patchy.

              • greywarshark

                Patricia b
                Thanks for thinking about TS even when you are recovering from surgery. It’s one way to take your mind off any pain. And a good reason to have a sit down and not push yourself too much. All the best.

                • patricia bremner

                  Thanks I am home today. they are thrilled with my progress. We have purchased the the long handel brush and shovel with the fixed tray .Ta .for the good wishes.

                  • veutoviper

                    You are doing well! Home already. Its that spinal rather than GA – and most importantly, a positive mindset.

                    And hope that the long handled brush and shovel works! I was the one who recommended that – blame me if it doesn’t work! LOL

  8. greywarshark 9

    That was a really beautiful thought Tony V. And you have put a lot of time and study into it. Is the methane part likely? Does it stick to the ground, not lift?

    I feel sorry too for the young people. But they are just the same as us, open to the same culture pressures, the same formation of society and the ties that bind us. And the same memes about rights of individuals and self-made etc. so that they respond to new ideas and don’t discuss old ones to see what elements apply to them.

    Democracy was a great possibility, but if there is power in the hands of the people, they have to take responsibility for their combined power, it requires regular meetings, updates, perhaps unpopular decisions that need to be examined and explained. It’s easier to trundle along with someone else taking on the burden of driving things forward, and the trundlers just add pithy comments about the leaders.

    Education was going to save us, but it didn’t spread its wings wide enough, so our minds could fly high and take an overview of our doings and dealings, which in turn would keep us grounded. Paradox? And I think we all needed to take a course in being a comedian. They have to know their human audience so well, understand them and know where to push the buttons, to make them laugh. No wonder clowns often are said to be sad.

    I don’t know what you think of The Day of the Triffids, but I hope that some of the young ones, like the protagonist in that, will struggle through and join a group with guts and luck, and nous; all four-letter words for the future. And with civilising and scientific minds guided by a desire to have a fair and practical society which will be the opposite to what we have now.

  9. Sabine 10

    Just read this article, and while it is about the shake down in the US and its after effects on disaster preparedness and so forth, i came across this :

    Quote: The Dutchman Henk Ovink, appointed by his government as the world’s only water ambassador, has tried to inspire other countries to adopt that outlook and instruct on how to be ready for climate-driven catastrophes.

    “We can’t prevent them from happening,” Ovink told CBS last September. “But the impact that is caused by these disasters we can decrease by preparing ourselves,” he added. “The storms are perhaps man-caused and you can debate that. But the catastrophes because of the storms? Those are manmade.”Quote End

    We will have the same issue here in NZ, we are actually not preparing for what is coming. We are still talking in times of us having time, while that is not the reality anymore. We are not even catching up anymore, we are now in the unique position to have to live with the natural disasters that are coming and only deal with the after math.

    and this :
    Quote: “Fema isn’t the cavalry,” he says, explaining that the agency is often blamed for things beyond its control. “The roots of vulnerability to disaster are in communities. The neighbors, the residents, the city, the state – they are going to be the first to respond and they are going to do the bulk of the rebuilding.”

    Fema isn’t the cavalry. The roots of vulnerability to disaster are in communities
    Patrick Roberts
    When the responsibility falls to federal agencies, or even when people look to the president during disasters, Roberts says there’s no accountability in the localities where response and preparation efforts take place

    replace Fema with government and this comment would fit any country on this planet.

    Yet, especially in the industrial nations with our rugged individualism and derison for ‘social action’ we have neglected the part were we are responsible for our own communities and were we know and accept that we are primarliy responsible for our own survival in terms of natural disasters.
    Yet it seems we are not happy to do so, not happy to fund emergency services other via bake sales, train locals to be able to administer first aid, water purification stations, build shelter etc etc etc.

    As for the requiem to humanity, i also think it is about time for us to understand that the planet will be there long after our species has died out.

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/18/natural-disaster-preparation-fema-hurricanes

  10. Draco T Bastard 11

    “When religion and politics travel in the same cart, the riders believe nothing can stand in their way. Their movements become headlong – faster and faster and faster. They put aside all thoughts of obstacles and forget the precipice does not show itself to the man in a blind rush until it’s too late.”

    ― Frank Herbert, Dune

  11. Rrm 12

    I can’t fap to this.

  12. Draco T Bastard 13

    Antarctica’s ice sheets may melt faster than we thought, accelerating sea level rise

    It might be hard to see why scientists are sounding the alarm over a few millimeters of water. But Cherry says those small changes get magnified as their consequences cascade through the planet’s oceanic and atmospheric systems. “There are very large reverberations of what’s happening in Antarctica all the way up to Alaska and our communities,” she says. “We see huge problems from storm surges and coastal flooding as a consequence of sea level rise and the disappearance of sea ice.”

    “The biggest uncertainty remains human actions,” says Moon. “This is not some inevitability. The actions we take play a fundamental role in shaping what these ice sheets will look like in a hundred years.”

    Politicians and capitalists still want more growth, more profits and because of this will not allow us to do what’s necessary to minimise those cascading reverberations.

    • shadrach 13.1

      Human actions are only part of it.

      https://phys.org/news/2019-01-antarctica-sea-ice-climate.html

      “Sea ice cover in Antarctica shrank rapidly to a record low in late 2016 and has remained well below average. But what’s behind this dramatic melting and low ice cover since? Our two articles published earlier this month suggest that a combination of natural variability in the atmosphere and ocean were to blame, though human-induced climate change may also play a role.”

      • Draco T Bastard 13.1.1

        Ah, a RWNJ comes in with excuses for why it’s not all our fault and thus implies that it’s not our fault at all.

        Yeah, Typical RWNJ – denying the consequences of their actions.

        • Gosman 13.1.1.1

          Ironic much Draco?🤣😂😅

        • Shadrach 13.1.1.2

          My post was an attempt at balancing the hyperbole in both the guest post and your comment. Mankind is influencing the climate, but so are other factors. You would do well to better understand the science before commenting.

          • Draco T Bastard 13.1.1.2.1

            My post was an attempt at balancing the hyperbole in both the guest post and your comment.

            Yes – denying your own fault as far as possible.

            As I said.

            • Shadrach 13.1.1.2.1.1

              So you don’t deny the hyperbole in your post? Or do you need the word explained to you?

              • Draco T Bastard

                There was no hyperbole in my comment.

                Just arse covering in yours.

                • shadrach

                  The words ‘cascading reverberations’ are something of a giveaway. And the fact that you claimed politicians and capitalists don’t want to take action on climate change.

                  Your naieve and unscientific rantings actually harm the efforts towards human action, because they play into the hands of deniers, and alienate those who have sincere doubts.

  13. riffer 14

    Excellent short story, and it hit me hard particularly as, at age 52, I’m likely to be the same age as the protagonist.

    I recall seeing a miniseries a while back called On The Beach, about the inevitability of death for all citizens following a nuclear disaster and subsequent retaliation of nuclear armed countries, and I’d always assumed we could end ourselves that way.

    Tony, you put forward a great case for that not to be so. I too agree it’s probably too late, and as the father of four ranging in age from 14 to 21 that’s not a good thought.

    • greywarshark 14.1

      From W H Auden poem 1 September 1939.

      Exiled Thucydides knew
      All that a speech can say
      About Democracy,
      And what dictators do,
      The elderly rubbish they talk
      To an apathetic grave;
      Analysed all in his book,
      The enlightenment driven away,
      The habit-forming pain,
      Mismanagement and grief:
      We must suffer them all again.

      This Greek bloke had an eventful life; his time for thinking work funded by gold, that is relevant to today.
      Thucydides – HISTORY
      https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/thucydides
      Thucydides’ Life. … His father’s name was Olorus, and his family was from Thrace in northeastern Greece, where Thucydides owned gold mines that likely financed his historical work. He was born in the Athenian suburb of Halimos and was in Athens during the plague of c.430 B.C., a year after the war began.

      All I have is a voice
      To undo the folded lie,
      The romantic lie in the brain
      Of the sensual man-in-the-street
      And the lie of Authority
      Whose buildings grope the sky:
      There is no such thing as the State
      And no one exists alone;
      Hunger allows no choice
      To the citizen or the police;
      We must love one another or die.

      I think the thought that has to be good enough, is to do what we can, and try to be informed, helpful, kind, practical and wary of utopians and wishers-not-doers. Hope and work to support in an honest and friendly fashion, those trying to manage and possibly improve, and remember the last four lines of the second excerpt. Which matter, even if it is ‘We must love one another yet die’.

  14. johnm 15

    There are 2000 gigatonnes ( billion tonnes) of methane clathrates in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf 70′ down covered by a sealing layer of permafrost. Just a 50 gigatonne release would severely affect crop growing ability leading to food shortages. This water is warming up as the ice cover retreats more and more in the summer. The release of most of this store would lead to biosphere extinction.
    Methane Hydrates – Extended Interview Extracts With Natalia Shakhova https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kx1Jxk6kjbQ

    This is not including the methane escaping from the peat bogs in the far north of Canada and Russia.
    Methane massive release will precipitate our extinction.

    buster dan :
    1) There already are enough greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to warm the Earth by 5° to 8°C. They’re already there.
    The only thing that is stopping it are the polar ice caps. They act as the air conditioners of the world. Once one of them is gone, temperatures will quickly rise.
    2) The permafrost is thawing right now. It has been thawing for several years now. There are enough greenhouse gases to triple that which we have in the atmosphere. Just a 10% thaw is enough to wipe out all life on this planet. The Arctic council released a 2017 report stating that 20% will thaw before 2040.
    3) Below the seabed along every continental coastline, there lie vast amounts of methane hydrates. Methane in the atmosphere is 155 times worse than CO2 as a greenhouse gas when it is released. Since we only care about what methane is doing now that is the only value that is important. Since the oceans are warming up, the heat will destabilize these methane hydrates and they’ll be released into the atmosphere. There is enough methane to increase global temperatures a hundred fold easily.
    4) As a US research paper concluded in 2015, ocean warming is unstoppable.
    5) The burning of fossil fuels creates the greenhouse gas CO2 but it also produces a lot of airborne pollution. The pollution is responsible for many deaths worldwide (as much as 6 million) but it also has a positive effect. It is blocking some of the sunlight that reaches us. This effect is called Global Dimming. It was discovered after 9/11 where the daily temperature range increased by 1.1°C in just 3 days. That is the result of all of the aircraft being grounded.
    If we convert to greener energy choices, the pollution will fall from the skies and the air will be cleaner but temperatures will rise very quickly too as the Global Dimming disappears.
    The pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels is actually buying us time. We are living on borrowed time.
    6) Time.
    We don’t have much.
    Almost everyone is treating Global Warming as a linear growth. They portray it as a gradual increase in temperatures. This is a falsehood. Global Warming is speeding up exponentially. This means we don’t have until 2100 to figure things out. That is what the fossil fuel industry wants you to think. We don’t have until 2040 either.
    The IPCC report stated that we only have until 2030 but the IPCC report uses 10 year old data. A lot has happened in the past 10 years which changes that timeline. The permafrost thawing started in the past 10 years. The IPCC report does not include many of the recent findings.
    It makes the erroneous statement that the Arctic will only become ice free once every 100 years. That is simply not true. Once the Arctic loses it’s ice in the Summer, every following summer will be ice free and the ice free season will grow with every additional year.
    The simple truth is that we have ran out of time.
    Every climate plan takes time to enact. Legislature from not just one country but all countries would need to be changed to allow the necessary infrastructure to be built. Resources would have to be gathered on such a massive scale to build what we need that even the entire population of the Earth could not do it in time. Once the structures are in place the result will take time to have a positive effect.
    In short there is not enough runway for any climate plan to take off.
    There isn’t enough time.
    7) Some of the processes I have already pointed out are called feedback loops. These are cycles that produce whatever fuel they need to continue on. For example the permafrost releases greenhouse gases as it thaws. That greenhouse gas warms the area even more and thus causes more thawing. This is a continuous cycle that doesn’t stop until there is nothing left to fuel the thawing.
    Once a feedback loop begins it is virtually impossible to stop. Worse yet is that these feedback loops not only power themselves but they help to power other feedback loops.
    There are now over 70 individual feedback loops in place. There will be more as the world continues to warm up. A tipping point is reached once any feedback loop begins.
    So when scientists tell you that tipping points have not been reached yet, they are lying to you. There have been over 70 tipping points that have already been passed.

    Now all of this does not mean you should give up the fight.
    You can still fight in vain if it helps you fill your need of being useful.
    But you can also just make sure that everyone is prepared for what is coming at them in a very short time.
    It’s not going to be pretty.
    The WWF released a report that stated that 60% of all wildlife has died in the past 40 years. It did not say how much died before 1970. We have cut down a lot of forests to make room for cities and crops. The animals in those forests didn’t just move away. They died.
    This means we are well past the halfway point of our own extinction. We just don’t see it because there hasn’t been any major human death toll yet.
    That is coming very very soon.
    It will happen during the Summer months when heatwaves become so intense that people just cannot survive outdoors. It’s almost there now.
    Scientists have also projected that the next 5 years are going to be exceptionally hotter than it already has.
    If you can’t survive the Summer heat then the rest of the year doesn’t matter. You’ll be dead.
    There are ways to lessen the death toll though. During the Summer months the working hours can shift to night so that people are going to work at night when it’s cooler and sleeping during the hot day with their AC units on.
    Hopefully the grid does not fail due to major storms. Underground cables can help there.
    Personalized energy production would be ideal but as I stated before, converting to greener energy will end Global Dimming and then we feel the full effect of Global Warming. I would instead compartmentalize the power sources more so that when the grid fails it doesn’t fail for the entire region. There could also be switching where the downed region could take from the surrounding working regions and thus not lose power after all. Piggybacking if you will.
    Making it so that everyone gets free medicare is a good move. Every nation has the ability to do this. They can make it easier for those still alive to live whatever time they have left.
    There is no point in hording all that money when it becomes useless at our extinction. Using all that money to ease the suffering of the masses is the only humane thing the super rich can do now.

    I would like to add an extra point for those that are still not convinced that we have very little time.
    Has anybody ever wondered why there is such a mad rush to send people into space? The US wants to send people to the moon this year.
    Why the rush?
    It’s because the governments know how much time is left. They have to make some attempt to continue the human race and getting people off the planet is the only way to do it.

    On that note, have a good day and good luck in whatever you choose to do.😏

    • greywarshark 15.1

      Thanks for that long info piece JohnM and your kind wishes for our day. To you also.

    • Jim 15.2

      Looks like we should be building infrastructure that allows life in a methane dominant atmosphere. Sending a few people who only know how to accumulate $s to the moon or mars doesn’t sound like a viable way “to continue the human race”.

  15. rata 16

    85 year old on his life or lessons learned or something .
    But all he talked about was climate change?
    Weird.

    • greywarshark 16.1

      What did you learn from reading what he had written? (Fractious chap making an effort to get with-it and visited a blog with ideas, some of which are open to individual interpretation, and got confused or something. Out of his comfort zone!) Weird.

  16. Robert Guyton 17

    The ArchDruid says:
    “A couple of weeks ago one of my readers pointed me to an op-ed piece on climate change by Canadian journalist David Moscrop, titled “It’s time for climate change defeatists to get out of the way.” If you’ve watched the slow-motion train wreck of climate change activism for more than a year or two, you already know Moscrop’s song well enough to sing it in the shower, but I think the attitudes enshrined (or, better, embalmed) in this piece and its many equivalents are worth another look. There’s something moving down below the surface of the rhetoric; follow where it leads, and you come close to one of the deep roots of our present predicament.

    Moscrop’s essay contains all the usual ingredients, and all the usual omissions, of a good standard tub-thumping climate change diatribe. He starts out sounding like a Puritan preacher—sinners in the hands of an angry Gaia!—but shifts almost at once to talking about feelings: his feelings, of course, and those of the people who agree with him. They’re anxious, he tells us. They’re grieving. They’re depressed. They’re despondent. And of course it’s all the fault of those horrible people over there, those “cowards or selfish monsters or wretched social liabilities willfully closed off to the reality of imminent doom,” who are deliberately keeping climate change activists from saving the world.

    Then, of course, comes the call to arms—to “ignore, marginalize, and defeat” those horrible people over there. “That means protests,” he tells us. “That means lawsuits. That means trying to convince deniers or holdouts with our reasons. That means shouting them down at town halls if giving reasons fails.” It means, to be precise, exactly those things that climate change activists have been doing over and over again for the last twenty years, with a noticeable lack of success. There’s a helpful saying about that—“if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten”—but apparently Moscrop thinks otherwise; the only alternative he can see to yet another round of the same failed tactics is rolling over and waiting for death.

    The things that got left out of Moscrop’s diatribe are even more indicative than the things that got put into it. The first one, as I’ve already hinted, is any sense that climate change activists might learn a lesson or two from their movement’s many defeats. Successful movements for social change constantly learn from experience, abandoning tactics and strategies that don’t work and building on those that do. Attempting to ignore, marginalize, and defeat “deniers and holdouts” hasn’t worked—quite the contrary, there are more people today who dismiss the reality of anthropogenic climate change than ever before.

    I should probably mention here, to avoid unnecessary confusion, that I’m not one of those latter people. I learned enough about energy flow and the laws of thermodynamics many years ago to realize that if you dump billions of tons of infrared-trapping gases into Earth’s atmosphere, you’re going to play hob with the delicate energy balance that maintains Earth’s climate in its present condition. The fact that Earth’s climate has changed drastically in the past, without benefit of human interference, simply shows how stupid it is to tamper with a system so obviously vulnerable to destabilization. (Readers who want to know more about my take on climate change are welcome to consult my books The Long Descent, The Ecotechnic Future, and Dark Age America, which all discuss the subject at some length.)

    That is to say, I agree heartily with Moscrop’s claims that anthropogenic climate change has become an everyday reality, and that it can be expected to get much, much worse so long as modern industrial civilization keeps bumbling on its merry way, ripping through half a billion years of fossil sunlight to prop up a few short centuries of absurd extravagance. Yet it remains the case that twenty years of strident yelling by climate change activists have not succeeded in convincing either their opponents or the undecided of the rightness of their cause and the urgency of change. Quite the contrary, the more vociferously climate change activists have pursued the program that Moscrop has summarized, the more numerous and more vocal their opponents have become. That deserves much more attention than it’s gotten so far.”

    • Pat 17.1

      Not sure what your point is in selectively quoting JMG….heres a little more of the same article…and a link to the whole.

      “So that’s one very obvious thing that’s missing from Moscrop’s take on things. The other will be familiar to readers of this blog: nowhere in his essay does he breathe even a hint of the idea that people who want industrial society to stop flooding the atmosphere with greenhouse gases need to start leading by example, and make the same changes in their own lives first.”

      https://www.ecosophia.net/the-flight-from-nature/

  17. sumsuch 18

    Think you’re drawing the loop slightly too tight — the micro-criticism that characterises this age. By all that is reasonable we’re finished. My biggest beef is it will eat into my oldage — Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’. With its dry message in the film version’s credits. Pretty sure some techno wonder will put that off for a few decades. Though in an age of the rule of the rich, not so sure.

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