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Chapter 3. Converging Crises

Morton (2013). Hyperobjects. Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World.

Morton, Timothy. Hyperobjects. Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 2013.

Summary:

Global warming is fundamentally different from many other threats we as humans have faced. We are actually inside this threat; we are part of it and responsible for it. Dealing with global warming is therefore utterly difficult. Right now we are in denial – which is logical because the danger is really coming from unusual dimensions (a hyperobject). We should pause to see it, and then take responsibility.

Opinion:

As a work of philosophy, this book offers new and original ideas. As a practical guide to living in times of hyperobjects the book takes way to many words to describe what has been summarized above in five sentences. Morton is bold and graceful, however, in his use of art and artworks to construct his argument, and pointing out a role for the arts in communicating the intricate world of hyperobjects into the realm of our unconsciousness.

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State of the Climate

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, CO2 levels have increased 40% and methane levels over 250%.

Greenhouse Gas Concentrations over last 2000 years. Source: IPCC AR4.

Greenhouse Gas Concentrations over last 2000 years. Source: IPCC AR4.

Greenhouse gasses have the effect of preventing heat leaving the planet. Over 90% of the extra trapped heat is absorbed by the oceans.

Global temperatures have risen 0,8C in the last century.

The Arctic ocean is losing ice at about 3000M3 per decade since 1979. Back then there was about 17,000 cubic meters of Arctic ice in September (just after northern summer). If the trend continues then it takes only 17,000/3,000 = 5.6 decades since 1979 before the arctic will be free of ice in summer. In about two decades, in 2034 the Arctic might be free of ice. Given the variance, it will probably occur somewhat sooner.[1].

Source: Polar Science Center, Washington DC. http://psc.apl.washington.edu/wordpress/research/projects/arctic-sea-ice-volume-anomaly/

Source: Polar Science Center, Washington DC. http://psc.apl.washington.edu/wordpress/research/projects/arctic-sea-ice-volume-anomaly/

 

The Arctic is warming up more rapidly because ice reflects heat (albedo) much better then water. This extra warming of the Arctic region, called Polar Amplification, is currently the largest positive feedback in the climate system.

Source: Sam Carana, http://arctic-news.blogspot.com

Source: Sam Carana, http://arctic-news.blogspot.com

A second albedo change comes from darkening of the snow cover, due to black sooth from increasing forest fires and old particles that emerge from the melting snow, collecting in the top layer.


Source: Dr. Jason Box, www.darksnow.org

Methane eruptions in the Arctic are increasing because of the heating Arctic. Russian scientists Nathalia Shakova and Igor Semiletov estimate that methane clathrates (gas molecules frozen in water) in the shallow ocean north of Siberia can be destabilized in a matter of decades, saying “It might happen today”.

Feedback loops like albedo and methane clathrates have the potential of leading to an abrupt change in global climate.

Sea levels rising indicate rising temperatures, because two sources contribute to sea level change: water temperature and melting land ice.[2]. Projections of sea level rise are uncertain, because the feedback loops seem to be highly unpredictable. Estimates for ‘business as usual’ range from about 1 meter by 2100 [3] to about 7 meters by 2070[4]. The last number is based on Paul Beckwiths observation that glacial melt rates have been doubling about every 7 years in the last few decades.

Extreme weather events are increasing rapidly. For people in coastal regions, like Miami, Bangladesh or the Netherlands, that means it will be even more difficult to keep the rising water out. The 90% of extra warming energy going into the oceans means more energy for storms and tornadoes is available. Other areas face increased drought, heat or cold.[5]

  1. [1]http://psc.apl.washington.edu/wordpress/research/projects/arctic-sea-ice-volume-anomaly/
  2. [2]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Current_sea_level_rise
  3. [3]http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277379113004381
  4. [4]http://arctic-news.blogspot.nl/2014/10/where-we-are-a-climate-system-summary.html
  5. [5]http://www.climatecommunication.org/new/features/extreme-weather/overview/

Arctic Methane and the Mind

In the chaotic process of global warming, methane release from permafrost is a wildcard. The possibility of a sudden release of huge quantities of methane seems to be increasing. Russian researchers Igor Semiletov and Natalia Shakova have found indications of increasing methane release off the coast of Siberia. If such a sudden release were to happen, a mass extinction event on earth is likely.

This is a short video, “Arctic Methane and the Mind” showing some evidence and questioning the way the human psyche deals with this intangible news.

 

The Spirit Level – Why Inequality Kills

Abstract and interpretation of Wilkinson and Pickett (2010). The Spirit Level. Why Equality is Better for Everyone. London: Penguin.

Details of the research can be found at www.equalitytrust.org.uk.

High inequality has strong negative effects on societies, at the bottom as well as at the top. People die sooner in more unequal countries, mainly because social status has a staggering impact on health and wellbeing. Using a wealth of data and meticulous reasoning Wilkinsons and Picketts reach this conclusion: socio-economic inequality stands out as a crucial factor explaining life expectancy and many other problems like violence, drug abuse, mental illness and obesity.

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Why Climate Change is Happening and Catastrophic

For the first time in human history we are altering the climate of the planet in a way that is threatening our own subsistence. Global warming can make the Earth uninhabitable – at least for the nine billion people that could be alive halfway the current century, and certainly for the poorest part.

Geographic distribution Mortailty from Climate Change. Source: Human Impact Report 2009.

The climate crisis is interlinked with other crises. Biodiversity is threatened by global warming because forests can’t cope and die, taking the animals for which they are the habitats with them.[1] Floods, droughts, hurricanes, rising seawater levels and disappearing glaciers affect the poor in developing countries the most, so social inequality is increased as well.

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  1. [1]Rifkin 2011: 25

The End of fossil Energy

The lower curve shows per capita oil production. Source: http://www.albartlett.org/articles/art2000jan.html

Why is energy in a state of crisis? Simply because there is a decreasing amount of freely disposable energy to meet the demand of a growing global population. The chapter on Guidelines for Energy will show that this is not a reason for despair. There is one virtually infinite nuclear energy source and of course it’s called the sun. The past century has been spent by burning a condensed form of solar energy: petroleum.

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Understanding Finance and Economy

Chris Martenson

Economy is complex. A basic understanding of the big picture in crisis times is found with Chris Martenson. Chris, a somewhat peculiar but original and profound thinker, constructed a crash course explaining core concepts like money, rent, banking and resource depletion. Somewhat debatable, cataclysmic and US-centred but highly insightful.

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Why resource depletion shows financially

Chris Martenson argues that cheap energy and other natural resources are depleting, which means they cost increasingly more energy to subtract. The financial system, whose collapse is so visible in the media, mainly reacts by showing higher prices and unsustainable debt.

This short video – although grossly simplified – shows the lines of the argument quite well.

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How the World developed Inequally

Eurasia only land mass with comparable climate. Source: 4thtransition.ws

It’s Geography, stupid! The world developed in an inequal way mainly because of the way the landmasses are laid out. No decisive cultural differences, no genetically better races. Jared Diamond compellingly argues how it’s geography, because large landmasses with comparable climates result in more diverse species over time – and thus more species usefull to support human life. Like what? Like wheat and horses.

This gave Western peoples advantages like guns, germs and steel. PBC made a documentary series based on the book by that title. Watch it here. Brilliant.

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Food – the Ultimate Resource?

Food. The ultimate crucial resource. It’s production is highly dependent on the availability of ecosystems services like water, clean air, biodiversity and a suitable climate. Food scarcity means hunger, too much hunger means people die.

Lester Brown compellingly makes this point, by showing that civilizations have a tendency to collapse when running low on food, and food production is dependent on the natural ecosystems we live in. The following (Matt Damon narrated) documentary sums up his position.

(Watch clips on youtube)

Jared Diamond in his 2005 book Collapse also analyses how population growth and their impact on the environment is worsening ten fundamental and interrelated areas of resource depletion:[1]

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  1. [1]Diamond 2005: 486-500