Global warming helped trigger Syria’s bloody civil war

[Watch for more of this kind of news in the coming years as anthropogenic climate change leads to more drought, weather disruption and food scarcity…]

by Andrew Freedman

Manmade global warming helped spark the brutal civil war in Syria by doubling to tripling the odds that a crippling drought in the Fertile Crescent would occur shortly before the fighting broke out, according to a groundbreaking new study published on March 2.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first to attribute the drought in Syria in large part to global warming.

In doing so, it provides powerful evidence backing up the Pentagon and intelligence community’s assessments that climate change is likely to play the role of a “threat multiplier” in coming decades, pushing countries that are already vulnerable to upheaval over the edge and into open conflict.

Previous studies had shown that the drought, along with other factors such as an influx of refugees from the Iraq War next door, helped prime Syria for conflict by 2011, when the uprising began, before transitioning into an all-out civil war. Today, once-cosmopolitan Syria has been reduced to rubble, with the terrorist group known as ISIS taking over large swaths of territory.

At least 200,000 people are estimated to have died in this conflict so far.

A Syrian refugee woman is seen between a line of tents in a refugee camp near Azaz, north of Aleppo province, Syria, Sunday, Feb 17, 2013.

AP Photo / Manu Brabo

Turkey, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan may face an even more tenuous security situation in the coming decades.

The drought, which gripped the country between 2007 and 2010, forced 1.5 million farmers and herders in northeastern Syria to flee their lands and travel to urban areas in search of food and work.

This profound demographic shift helped further destabilize the country, the study says.

The study also found that much of the eastern Mediterranean, including Syria, parts of Turkey, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan — no bastions of stability today — may face an even more tenuous security situation in the coming decades as global warming increases temperatures and reduces rainfall throughout much of the region.

According to this study and others, global warming along with unsustainable water use is causing the Fertile Crescent, where agriculture and animal herding first began 12,000 years ago, to lose its fertility.

“This region is going to continue to get drier and continue to get hotter, so this is only a problem that is going to continue to get worse in that region,” says Colin Kelley, the study’s lead author and a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Although the drought did not directly cause the war and subsequent rise of ISIS, which the U.S. and its allies are combating using military force, it formed a significant part in the cascading series of events that led to the deadly Syrian conflict.

Government policies that encouraged the unsustainable use of water resources and provided inadequate aid to displaced persons, among other factors, also ratcheted up Syria’s vulnerability to conflict around the time of the drought.

“We would not say and did not even attempt to say that the uprising was caused by climate change,” Kelley says. Rather, the drought was one in a chain of events that led to the breakout of hostilities.

“[Syria’s] vulnerability was so acute that all it took was something to push them over the edge,” he said in an interview.

Kelley says the drought set in motion a series of events that wound up sparking one of the deadliest conflicts of the 21st century to date. “A lot of these farming communities abandoned their villages and went to the cities at the same time that Iraqi refugees were coming in,” Kelley says.

“There was a very big population shock to these urban areas.”

Urban areas in Syria saw a population jump of 50% between 2002 to 2010, from 8.9 million to 13.8 million, as a result of refugees fleeing fighting in Iraq as well as those who were abandoning their land in northeastern Syria.

“That’s a tremendous increase in people to these urban areas over this period,” Kelley told Mashable. “It’s not at all surprising that the uprising happened shortly after this.”

Richard Seager, a climate scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Laboratory in New York and a co-author of the study, told Mashable that farmers were prepared to cope with a one-to-two-year dry spell, but three years exceeded their ability to cope.

“The length and severity of this drought [that was] made more likely by human climate change was absolutely key in driving the agricultural community toward a threshold where they had no other opportunity but to pick up and leave,” Seager says.

Arctic Methane Release and Global Warming: Is anybody listening?

Excerpts from Methane Release and Global Warming

Global Research, July 30, 2013
… the “release of methane from thawing permafrost beneath the East Siberian Sea” would come with an “average global price tag of $60 trillion.” The news should have sent a shock wave through the media. But instead, predictably, the public were encouraged to celebrate—again and again, and again—the birth of the royal son.

Shakhova–Semiletov and Whiteman–Hope–Wadhams Studies

During the 1990s Russian scientist Dr. Natalia Shakhova had done studies of methane release from terrestrial permafrost in Eastern Siberia. In the fall of 2003, Shakhova and her colleague Dr. Igor Semiletov took the study offshore—to the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Every year since then, they conducted annual research trips, mostly on ships during summer, but also one aerial survey in 2006, and one winter expedition on sea ice in April 2007. They published their findings in the 5 March 2010 issue of the journal Science.

Methane release from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Credit: Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation.

Their research, for the first time, brought attention to the East Siberian Arctic Shelf as a key reservoir of Arctic methane that “encompasses more than 2 million square kilometers of seafloor in the Arctic Ocean,” and is “more than three times as large as the nearby Siberian wetlands” that was previously “considered the primary Northern Hemisphere source of atmospheric methane.” Their findings showed that the “permafrost under the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, long thought to be an impermeable barrier sealing in methane, is perforated and is starting to leak large amounts of methane into the atmosphere.” Shakhova pointed out that the current average methane concentrations in the Arctic is “about 1.85 parts per million, the highest in 400,000 years.”

The East Siberian Arctic Shelf is shallow, only about 164 feet in depth, which means that the methane that is getting released there, most of it is escaping into the atmosphere rather than getting absorbed into the water, which would have been the case if it was a deep seabed. Shakhova had warned at the time that the release of “even a fraction of the methane stored in the shelf could trigger abrupt climate warming.”

Shakhova and Semiletov now hold joint appointments with the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the Pacific Oceanological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Their research is ongoing, and Shakhova is the lead scientist for the Russia–US Methane Study.

I pointed out earlier that the rapid loss of summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is a key contributor to—thawing of terrestrial permafrost. It is also a key contributor to—thawing of the subsea permafrost in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf.

With all these background information, I’m finally ready to discuss the Whiteman–Hope–Wadhams study.

Arctic nations, including US, Russia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, as well as some non–Arctic nations, including China and India—are eyeing on the Arctic Economic Prize: “oil and gas” underneath the Arctic seabed. It is estimated that the Arctic Ocean contains 13 percent of undiscovered oil and 30 percent of undiscovered gas. These nations are also working to open up the Arctic sea route for moving all that crude around. It’s a great irony that the rapid melting of the summer sea ice is making the Arctic Ocean accessible for extraction and shipping.

Whiteman, Hope, and Wadhams point out that this frenzy for short–term profit is ignoring the long–term huge “economic impacts of a warming Arctic.” By using modeling they tried to understand the global economic impact of methane release from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf.

Referring to the Shakhova–Semiletov study, Whiteman, Hope, and Wadhams write: “A 50–gigatonne (Gt) reservoir of methane, stored in the form of hydrates, exists on the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. It is likely to be emitted as the seabed warms, either steadily over 50 years or suddenly.” They use “a decade–long pulse of 50 Gt of methane, released into the atmosphere between 2015 and 2025” as input to the PAGE09 economic model. They took into account “sea–level changes, economic and non–economic sectors and discontinuities such as the melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets.” They ran the model 10,000 times under two emissions scenarios: low–emissions and business–as–usual emissions. The result is a shocker: a $60 trillion price tag for the global economy.

That’s just the beginning, because there is much more methane in the Arctic than what is in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Furthermore, Whiteman, Hope, and Wadhams write, “The full impacts of a warming Arctic, including, for example, ocean acidification and altered ocean and atmospheric circulation, will be much greater than our cost estimate for methane release alone.”

“The economic consequences will be distributed around the globe, but the modeling shows that about 80 percent of them will occur in the poorer economies of Africa, Asia and South America,” Whiteman, Hope, and Wadhams write. The $60 trillion number is astounding, beyond the comprehension of most human minds. It has the capacity to cripple the economy of many small nations, that are already stressed from global economic crises. This is what I’d call—economic dystopia. …

Coast Guard Cutter Alert rescues sea turtles

February 26, 2015

Alert’s rescue diver, Seaman Brandon Groshens, cuts away the netting to free the sea turtles.

The second sea turtle swims away unharmed after being freed from the netting by SN Brandon Groshens.



The Alert, a Coast Guard cutter homeported in Astoria, encountered the struggling turtles while on patrol Feb. 10 in the eastern Pacific

Two sea turtles caught in fishing net were freed earlier this month by a Coast Guard rescue swimmer.

The Alert, a Coast Guard cutter homeported in Astoria, encountered the struggling turtles while on patrol Feb. 10 in the eastern Pacific, according to a statement from the guard.

The cutter’s bridge watch team flagged plastic containers used as buoys floating in the water and then saw the two entangled turtles.

“Jumping into the ocean to free a couple of sea turtles is not something you wake up in the morning expecting to do” Seaman Brandon Groshens, Pendleton, said in a statement. “It was a really great feeling as they swam away, knowing that we just saved their lives.”

Commander Brian Anderson, the Alert’s commanding officer, said he was “especially proud of my diligent watch standers, and how the crew quickly came together in performing their good deed for the day.”

As Climate Disruption Advances, 26 Percent of Mammals Face Extinction

Tuesday, 06 January 2015 09:33
Written by 
Dahr Jamail By Dahr Jamail,

Excerpts from a Truthout report found here:

Two recently released studies brought bad news for those living near coastlines around the world. One published in the peer-reviewed Nature Climate Change, the other in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the studies showed that existing10264634_10152337495904586_9174164310757903244_n computer models might have severely underestimated the risk to the Greenland ice sheet from warming global temperatures.

Bear in mind that if Greenland’s entire ice sheet melts, 20 feet would be added to global sea levels.  …..

Warming temperatures in the Arctic are causing shifts in the gene pool of animals: Scientists are reporting an increasing likelihood of “grolar bears,” which are a cross between grizzly and polar bears. According to scientists, this would bring deleterious consequences, given that “genetic incompatibilities in hybrids will erase traits crucial to the long-term survival of both parent species.” They warn that if that happens, “then we can expect a great reduction in those populations, and possibly extinctions.”  …

tropical deforestation, caused by both ACD and logging, could cause “significant and widespread” shifts in rainfall distribution and temperatures, which will affect agriculture far and wide.

Pine bark beetle infestations, which are exploding across vast swaths of North America, are now happening as far south as Tucson, Arizona, where pine trees are now dropping like flies.

California’s ongoing drought is having profound impacts on wildlife: Animals like squirrels, deer and bear are fleeing their homes and even risking their lives to search for food sources that have been dramatically diminished.

Another recent study showed that ACD-related habitat loss is now a threat to 314 more species of birds, whose numbers are already in decline. …

As storms continue to intensify, the Philippines’ climate chief warned recently that his country lacks the systems necessary to cope with the worsening impacts of ACD. The Philippines was recently hammered by yet another massive typhoon.

In Australia, Sydney and its surrounding region can expect an increasing number of hot days, shifting rainfall patterns and more extreme fire danger as a result of ACD, according to recently published high-resolution modeling of the future climate there.

A recently published study revealed that deadly cholera outbreaks are almost certain to increase in the more vulnerable regions of the world due to ACD, since severe heat waves and more frequent and intense flooding are on the rise.

Lastly in this section, another recent study showed that the Amazonian peatlands store approximately 10 times the amount of carbon as do undisturbed rainforests in adjacent areas, which makes them all the more critical in efforts to mitigate ACD. The areas in question are already mostly unprotected, and the deforestation there would result in “massive carbon emissions,” according to the report.

deadly heat waves in Europe are now 10 times more likely than they were just a decade ago. This is troubling news, given that during the summer of 2003 when temperatures soared to over 100 degrees throughout Western Europe, more than 35,000 people were killed – and that was the most intense heat the continent had seen in over 500 years.

As the planet goes, so goes Europe. A recent study by three independent teams of climate scientists has tied that continent’s record-breaking heat of 2014 directly to ACD. The report also showed that record-breaking years are now 35 to 80 times more likely, again thanks to ACD.

Extremes of both hot and cold temperatures across the planet are increasing faster than previously believed.

Indeed, recently released research shows that extremes of both hot and cold temperatures across the planet are increasing faster than previously believed… the Arctic is continuing to warm faster than the rest of the planet, as annual average temperatures there have continued to heat up twice as fast as the rest of the globe.

Two recent studies revealed that millions of abandoned oil and gas wells spanning the United States are likely releasing a “significant quantity” of methane into the atmosphere, which is not being included in total Environmental Protection Agency emission counts.

Lastly and perhaps most distressing in this section, new modeling revealed how warming ocean waters could well already be triggering massive methane leaks off the Pacific Northwest Coast, where 4 million tons of the potent greenhouse gas have already been released since 1970.  …

…and Nature magazine has sounded the alarm that a staggering 41 percent of all amphibians on the planet now face extinction, and 26 percent of mammals and 13 percent of birds face the same threat. …

For California Salmon, Drought

For California Salmon, Drought
And Warm Water Mean Trouble

With record drought and warming waters due to climate change, scientists are concerned that the future for Chinook salmon — a critical part of the state’s fishing industry — is in jeopardy in California.

by alastair bland

Gushing downpours finally arrived in California last month, when December rains brought some relief to a landscape parched after three years of severe drought.

But the rain came too late for thousands of Chinook salmon that spawned this summer and fall in the northern Central Valley. The Sacramento River, running lower than usual under the scorching sun, warmed into the low 60s — a temperature range that can be lethal to fertilized

Chinook salmon

Pacific Northwest National Lab
Chinook, the largest species of Pacific salmon, need cool waters to reproduce.

Chinook eggs. Millions were destroyed, and almost an entire year-class of both fall-run Chinook, the core of the state’s salmon fishing industry, and winter-run Chinook, an endangered species whose eggs incubate in the summer, was lost.

The disaster comes on the heels of a similar event the previous autumn. It is also reminiscent of ongoing troubles on northern California’s Klamath River, where diversion of water for agriculture has at times left thousands of adult Chinook — the largest species of Pacific salmon — struggling to survive in water too shallow and warm to spawn in.

Now, scientists — who are observing increasing human demand for water, genetic decline of hatchery-reared salmon, and climate change models predicting intensified droughts — are concerned that the Chinook salmon will be unable to tolerate future river conditions and will all but vanish from California’s landscape.

Robert Lackey, a professor of fisheries at Oregon State University, Corvallis, says that as the climate continues to warm, “salmon at the southern edge of their range will be the first to go.” Lackey doubts any

Historically huge salmon runs could be reduced to almost nothing before the end of the century.

Pacific salmon species will go fully extinct soon, and in Alaska, Russia, and other northern regions he expects populations to remain relatively strong. But farther south, where rising water temperatures will reach or exceed the limits of the salmon’s physiological tolerance, Lackey predicts historically huge runs will be reduced to almost nothing before the end of the century.

Just two centuries ago, as many as two million Chinook spawned in the Central Valley each year. The fish headed from the Pacific into San Francisco Bay, and at the confluence of the valley’s two big rivers, about half turned north into the Sacramento River system while the rest went south into the San Joaquin River, seeking the cool headwaters where they would lay and fertilize their eggs.

In this large valley — where the Mediterranean climate is friendly to desert-loving crops like pistachios, figs, and olives — salmon may seem out of place. Yet they thrived here. That’s because some of the highest mountains in North America flank the Central Valley — the Sierra Nevada along the eastern side and the Cascades at the north end. These ranges are buried in snow most winters, and through the summer and fall meltwater gushes into the lowlands below, providing the cold flows Chinook salmon require to successfully spawn.

The 19th-century flood of miners and settlers to California rapidly changed the ecosystem. Mining destroyed watersheds while overfishing dented the huge salmon runs. Then, in the 20th century, came the extensive systems of dams and canals built for agriculture. Reservoirs filled. So did the irrigation canals, and in the western San Joaquin Valley, a region naturally too arid to support intensive farming, vast orchards proliferated. The salmon fared poorly, though. The dams blocked the way to their historic spawning grounds and in some cases dried out rivers. In the San Joaquin, salmon vanished. On the Sacramento and its tributaries, populations hung on, though mostly because of artificial propagation in hatcheries.

Today, climate change is emerging as the next great threat to California’s remaining salmon runs. Peter Moyle, a fisheries biologist at the University

The mountain snowpack that has made life possible for salmon runs in California is expected to retreat.

of California, Davis, says the mountain snowpack that has made life possible for salmon runs in the state will retreat in the coming decades, as average temperatures escalate. Just a few spring-fed streams, he says, may remain cold enough year-round to support spawning.

This fall, scientists and environmentalists got a glimpse of what snowpack loss could mean for salmon statewide. Shasta Lake, its inflow from tributaries greatly diminished, dropped, while its waters warmed. Most years, even after a long, hot summer, cool water is available at the bottom of the reservoir, where an intake system draws the water through Shasta Dam and into the Sacramento River downstream. But by October of 2014, the water was 61 degrees, top to bottom, according to Jim Smith of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“There was no cold water available,” he says.

Tens — possibly hundreds — of thousands of salmon laid and fertilized their eggs through the autumn before any rain fell. “It would be a miracle if we had much survival in the river,” Moyle says.

Another autumn spawning disaster had occurred a year earlier, during the driest year in California’s recorded history. Government officials, hoping to ration reservoir water for later agricultural use, abruptly lowered the outflow from Shasta Lake in the midst of the largest spawning event the

Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers

California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife
Chinook salmon historically headed inland from the Pacific Ocean and up either the Sacramento or San Joaquin rivers to spawn.

Sacramento had seen in years. The river, teeming with 20-to-40-pound fish, shrank by half its volume. Thousands of salmon nests, or redds, were left high and dry.

Even the remote Klamath River, which flows into the sea just south of Oregon in a region of rain-drenched forest, is not immune to drought and thirsty farms. Last summer, the diversion of Klamath basin water to the Sacramento Valley, compounded by a year with virtually no rain, caused the dewatering of the Klamath during a large salmon run. Thousands of adult Chinook almost died in lukewarm water before the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, persuaded by Native American tribal leaders and environmentalists, reluctantly allowed more water to flow into the river, saving the fish. The action helped avoid a repeat of the kill in 2002, when sun-warmed waters caused a disease outbreak that killed roughly 34,000 adult fish.

The Klamath’s problems will get worse with climate change and increasing river temperatures, says Rebecca Quiñones, a U.C. Davis researcher who has extensively studied the Klamath ecosystem. “All the climate models show that the main stem of the [Klamath] river is going to be really

Some conservationists say hatchery production is making Chinook salmon more vulnerable to warming trends.

inhospitable to salmon,” Quiñones says.

Hatcheries in the Klamath and Sacramento basins produce most of the salmon that head out into the Pacific and are caught by fishermen off the California coast. But these facilities may now be causing more problems than they’re solving. For one thing, hatchery production is making Chinook salmon more vulnerable to warming trends, according to Jacob Katz, director of salmonid restoration initiatives with the group California Trout. He says hatcheries have traditionally harvested the very first salmon to swim through their processing rooms. In doing so, they have selected for a fall-run population that returns on the early end of the spawning season — exactly when waters may be warm and low, especially in the future.

Meanwhile, hatchery inbreeding and the elimination of natural selection is stripping the Chinook salmon genome of its evolutionary assets, Moyle says. The result is a domesticated animal not well suited to survive in a natural environment. Eventually, Moyle warns, hatchery fish will be so incompetent at finding food, evading predators, and finding their way back upriver to spawn that, even with tens of millions of them released each year, the Central Valley returns will diminish beyond hope. Hatcheries, without enough returning adults to provide sufficient eggs, will be forced to shut down. “This may take years, but the trajectory is there,” Moyle warns.

Today, in the Central Valley, juvenile salmon face multiple threats. In the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta, irrigation pumps draw the fish off their migration routes and into remote backwaters. Non-native bass and catfish, which are proliferating in the delta (and whose futures look bright in the warming waters), wait in ambush at reed clusters and pier pilings.

If rain falls at the right time, fast-moving torrents can wash the salmon safely out to sea; but in dry years, they drift slowly and precariously through the delta, and most perish before ever touching saltwater. Indeed, even critics of the hatcheries recognize that, were they to shut down, a fishing industry worth more than a billion dollars would collapse almost instantly.

Some scientists believe the Central Valley could still support a large, naturally spawning salmon population if the river system were restored to

Federal officials are considering a plan to trap adult salmon downstream and truck them upstream of Shasta Dam.

some semblance of its original state. Drained wetlands along the Sacramento River’s floodplains would need to be reconnected to the main channel, and dams would need to be operated to ensure that cold water always flowed downstream. In some cases, Moyle notes, dams could actually help salmon, since deep reservoirs would be the most reliable sources of cold water.

However, even outflow from the 500-foot depths of Shasta Lake will probably be too warm most years for endangered winter-run Chinook to spawn. To save this run from vanishing, the National Marine Fisheries Service is considering a long-term plan of trapping adult salmon downstream and trucking them upstream of Shasta Dam each winter so they can spawn where they did historically, in cool, high-elevation waters. The program — which Moyle calls a “desperation measure” — would also require trucking the juveniles back downstream in August.

Prospects for the Sacramento’s spring-run Chinook may be even worse. Most of the fish spawn in Butte Creek, a small tributary in the low hills just south of Mount Lassen. Each summer, this watershed is baked by the sun, and in the future, without reliable snowmelt from Lassen, successful spawning may not be possible here.

Along the West Coast of North America, the future for Chinook salmon looks bleak in the face of rising water temperatures. A study published in


The Ambitious Restoration of
An Undammed Western River

Elwha Dam restoration

With the dismantling of two dams on Washington state’s Elwha River, the world’s largest dam removal project is almost complete. Now, in one of the most extensive U.S. ecological restorations ever attempted, efforts are underway to revive one of the Pacific Northwest’s great salmon rivers.

December in the journal Nature Climate Change predicts that Chinook salmon will likely experience “catastrophic” population losses by 2100 due to warming river temperatures. Lackey says collective compromises in water use and lifestyle choices in the American West must be made before West Coast salmon, now reduced on average to less than five percent of their pre-Columbian numbers, can rebound. He doubts Americans are willing to pay this price. “Everywhere that we’ve seen economic development and [human] population growth, salmon runs have crashed,” Lackey says.

Moyle thinks that salmon could rebound, but only with the long-term cooperation of the water agencies that played a lead role in the loss of fish and habitat to begin with.

“California only has so much water available,” Moyle says. “Now, we are going to have to decide how we want to use our resources.”

A World that Never Was


Revisionist history may seem like harmless, feel good child’s play, but the threat it poses (to all other animals at least) is that without hearing the real story, people will never learn from the past.

It’s tempting to want to believe that all that has gone wrong with the human race is the result of being led astray by our technology, and if we could just get back to our caveman roots, everything would be happy and harmonious like it surely was back then. But contrary to contemporary popular belief, that’s a world that never was.

Even the earliest human hunters drove countless species to extinction and exhausted their carrying capacities time and again, ever since plant-eating primates first climbed down from the trees and decided to take up big-game hunting.10418292_778659628825562_4081410081902108848_n

The notion of the peaceful savage has long since been disproven, but people want to cling to it rather than accept the truth about human nature. Just look at the dead-animal adornments any warrior or tribal chief wore, and it’s easy to see the roots of trophy hunting.

The thought that any spear-wielding species who took advantage of fire to herd animals toward a cliff or into a box canyon had an innate sense of ecological fairness goes against all that made us human—envy, lust, greed, gluttony, a lack of empathy and an over-blown ego are the kinds of things that ultimately define a hunter, whether the motive for their behavior is sport or subsistence.

Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson summed up the chapter, “Paradise Imagined,” of their book, Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence, thusly, “There is no such thing as paradise, not in the South Seas, not in southern Greece, not anywhere. There never has been. To find a better world we must look not to a romanticized and dishonest dream forever receding into the primitive past, but to a future that rests on a proper understanding of ourselves.”

Humans have achieved an awful lot of success as a species over the years, but judging by our planet-crushing prowess, we may have finally breached our collective britches.


Tuesday Is Soylent Green Day Again

Last night I watched the timeless 1973 movie, Soylent Green, again and was again impressed (unfavorably) by how much the futuristic world that it depicted mirrored the world we’re headed for now. The temperature of the overcrowded New York of the future was a constant 90 degrees; the oceans were dying (presumably from overfishing and pollution, they hadn’t heard of acidification at the time); and the world was running out of food..

Spoiler Alert:

Set in 2022, the film opens with a slide show of earlier eras, back when the Earth was covered with forests and open fields, and there were only a few scattered settlements of people who travelled in horse-drawn wagons.

As the images pass quickly by, we see the first automobiles (tail pipes spewing toxic climate-changing carbon gases), followed by a massive blacktop parking lot jam packed with Model Ts. The pictures begin to flash almost more rapidly than we can focus, but we catch glimpses of factories with smokestacks billowing and crowds of people barely able to

move without trampling one another. (Come to think of it, what we are witnessing looks a lot like the inside of an average modern-day poultry barn, where chickens and turkeys are forced to live out their lives in intense confinement.)

The first scene of action takes place in a cramped little New York City apartment, the dwelling of the film’s two main characters, Thorn, a semi-corrupt detective, and his elderly room-mate and research partner, Sol, who is constantly going on about the good old days—a world that Thorn can’t possibly envision or relate to.

They are among the lucky few; most people sleep on the stairways or in the hallways or anywhere they can find shelter from the oppressive heat caused by an out of control greenhouse effect. We overhear a program on their worn out old TV which is an interview with the governor of New York, touting a new food product called “Soylent Green,” ostensibly made from the ocean’s plankton. (Everyone in that day and age knows that the land is used up, but they’re told the oceans can still provide for them).

Food in this depressing, human-ravaged world comes in the form of color-coded wafers, distributed under strict government supervision. Hordes of people stand in line for their ration of Soylent yellow or blue made from soy, or other high protein plants grown behind the fortress-walls of heavily guarded farms.

Signs remind the throng that “Tuesday is Soylent Green day.”

The multitudes are exceptionally unruly on Tuesday. Brimming with anticipation, they can’t wait to obtain a ration of the special new product. When the food distributors run out of soylent green, people start rioting and things get out of hand. “Scoops” (garbage trucks fitted with backhoe-like buckets on the front) are called in to scrape up the angry masses and haul them off…

By the end of the film, Thorn learns that the oceans are dead and the actual ingredients of Soylent Green are something a bit harder to stomach than plankton. In the final scene, a mortally-wounded Thorn is carried away on a stretcher as he desperately tries to tell bewildered onlookers, “Soylent Green is People!” “They’re making our food out of people. Next thing, they’ll be breeding us like cattle for food!”

Could it ever happen? Could the human race ever stoop so low? If the scenario seems too hard to swallow­, consider this: the conditions animals are forced to endure on today’s factory farms would have seemed unimaginable to people living a hundred years ago.

Are Humans Going Extinct?

Monday, 01 December 2014 09:45
Written by 
Dahr Jamail By Dahr Jamail, Truthout | Interview

Some scientists, Guy McPherson included, fear that climate disruption is so serious, with so many self-reinforcing feedback loops already in play, that humans are in the process of causing our own extinction.

August, September and October were each the hottest months ever recorded, respectively. Including this year, which is on track to become the hottest year ever recorded, 13 of the hottest years on record have all occurred in the last 16 years.

To see more stories like this, visit “Planet or Profit?”

Coal will likely overtake oil as the dominant energy source by 2017, and without a major shift away from coal, average global temperatures could rise by 6 degrees Celsius by 2050, leading to devastating climate change.

“Across two decades and thousands of pages of reports, the world’s most authoritative voice on climate science has consistently understated the rate and intensity of climate change and the danger those impacts represent.”

This is dramatically worse than even the most dire predictions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which predicts at least a 5-degree Celsius increase by 2100 as its worst-case scenario, if business continues as usual with no major mitigation efforts.

Yet things continue growing worse faster than even the IPCC can keep up with.

Scientific American has said of the IPCC: “Across two decades and thousands of pages of reports, the world’s most authoritative voice on climate science has consistently understated the rate and intensity of climate change and the danger those impacts represent.”

And there is nothing to indicate, in the political or corporate world, that there will be anything like a major shift in policy aimed at dramatically mitigating runaway anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD).

Guy McPherson is a professor emeritus of natural resources, and ecology and evolutionary biology, with the University of Arizona, who has been studying ACD for nearly 30 years.

Near-term human extinction could eventually result from losing the Arctic sea ice, which is one of the 40 self-reinforcing feedback loops of ACD.

His blog Nature Bats Last has developed a large readership that continues to grow, and for six years McPherson has been traveling around the world giving lectures about a topic that, even for the initiated, is both shocking and controversial: the possibility of near-term human extinction due to runaway ACD.

As McPherson has told Truthout: “We’ve never been here as a species, and the implications are truly dire and profound for our species and the rest of the living planet.” He told Truthout that he believes that near-term human extinction could eventually result from losing the Arctic sea ice, which is one of the 40 self-reinforcing feedback loops of ACD. “A world without Arctic ice will be completely new to humans,” he said.

At the time of our interview less than one year ago, McPherson had identified 24 self-reinforcing positive feedback loops. Today that number has grown to 40.

A self-reinforcing feedback loop can also be thought of as a vicious circle, in that it accelerates the impacts of ACD. An example would be methane releases in the Arctic. Massive amounts of methane are currently locked in the permafrost, which is now melting rapidly. As the permafrost melts, methane, a greenhouse gas 100 times more potent than carbon dioxide on a short timescale, is released into the atmosphere, warming it, which in turn causes more permafrost to melt, and so on.

In the near term, earth’s climate will change 10 times faster than during any other moment in the last 65 million years.

While McPherson’s perspective might sound way-out and like the stuff of science fiction, similar things have happened on this planet in the past. Fifty-five million years ago, a 5-degree Celsius rise in average global temperatures seems to have occurred in just 13 years, according to a study published in the October 2013 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A report in the August 2013 issue of Science revealed that in the near term, earth’s climate will change 10 times faster than during any other moment in the last 65 million years.

Prior to that, the Permian mass extinction that occurred 250 million years ago, also known as “The Great Dying,” was triggered by a massive lava flow in an area of Siberia that led to an increase in global temperatures of 6 degrees Celsius. That, in turn, caused the melting of frozen methane deposits under the seas. Released into the atmosphere, those gases caused temperatures to skyrocket further. All of this occurred over a period of approximately 80,000 years. The change in climate is thought to be the key to what caused the extinction of most species on the planet. In that extinction episode, it is estimated that 95 percent of all species were wiped out.

Today’s current scientific and observable evidence strongly suggests we are in the midst of the same process – only this time it is anthropogenic, and happening exponentially faster than the Permian mass extinction did.

We are likely to begin seeing periods of an ice-free Arctic by as soon as this coming summer, or the summer of 2016 at the latest.

Once the summer ice begins melting, methane releases will worsen dramatically.

Our current extinction event is already greatly exceeding the speed, and might eventually even exceed the intensity, of the Permian mass extinction event.

We are currently in the midst of what most scientists consider the sixth mass extinction in planetary history, with between 150 and 200 species going extinct daily – a pace 1,000 times greater than the “natural” or “background” extinction rate. Our current extinction event is already greatly exceeding the speed, and might eventually even exceed the intensity, of the Permian mass extinction event. The difference is that ours is human caused, isn’t going to take 80,000 years, has so far lasted just a few centuries and is now gaining speed in a nonlinear fashion.

Is it possible that, on top of the vast quantities of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels that continue to enter the atmosphere in record amounts yearly, an increased release of methane could signal the beginning of the sort of process that led to the Great Dying? Some scientists, McPherson included, fear that the situation is already so serious and so many self-reinforcing feedback loops are already in play that we are in the process of causing our own extinction. Worse yet, some are convinced that it could happen far more quickly than generally believed possible – even in the course of just the next few decades.

Truthout caught up with McPherson at the Earth at Risk conference in San Francisco recently to ask him about his prediction of human extinction, and what that means for our lives today.

Dahr Jamail: What are some of the current signs and reports you’re seeing that are disconcerting, and really give you pause?

Guy McPherson: I’ve been traveling, so I’m out of date for the last 10 days. But starting with the snowstorm in Buffalo, New York, that was the biggest snowstorm ever recorded in Buffalo, at 6 feet 4 inches in 24 hours. It’s the largest one ever recorded in the United States.

Australia, meanwhile, is on fire. I just came back from New Zealand, and spring had just turned there because it’s the Southern Hemisphere. The whole time I was there people were commenting on how hot it was, and “how far into summer we already are,” and it was early to mid-spring when I was there.

So there’s all kinds of observational evidence.

“It’s hard for me to imagine we make it into the 2030s as a species.”

We triggered another self-reinforcing feedback loop, number 40, just about two weeks ago; then just a week ago there was a [scientific] paper that came out indicating that for every 1-degree temperature rise, there is 7 percent more lightning strikes. So that contributes to a previously existing self-reinforcing feedback loop, that of fires, especially in the Northern Hemisphere, and especially in the boreal forests. So, as it gets warmer and drier, there are more and bigger fires, and that kicks more carbon into the atmosphere, which of course contributes to ongoing, accelerating climate disruption.

So lightning is yet another piece of that. As there is more moisture in the atmosphere and more heat going into the atmosphere and warming the planet, we have more lightning. The whole atmosphere becomes more dynamic. So, those are things that come to mind.

From your analysis, how long do you think humanity has before extinction occurs?

That’s such a hard question, and we are such a clever species. It’s clear that abrupt climate change is underway. Methane has gone exponential in the atmosphere. Paul Beckwith, climate scientist at University of Ottawa, indicates we could experience a 6-degree Celsius temperature rise in the span of a decade. He thinks we’ll survive that. I can’t imagine how that could be. He’s a laser physicist and engineer, so I think he doesn’t understand biology and requisite habitat that we need to survive.

So it’s difficult for me to imagine a scenario where we’ll survive even a 4-degree Celsius [above pre-industrial baseline] temperature rise, and we’ll be there in the very near future, like by 2030, plus or minus. So it’s hard for me to imagine we make it into the 2030s as a species.

But when I deliver public presentations I try not to focus on any particular date; I just try to remind people that they are mortal. That birth is lethal, and that we don’t have long on this planet even if we live to be 100, so we might want to pursue what we love, instead of pursuing the next dollar.

A more micro-look from that question – what do you see happening in the US, if Beckwith and other scientists who are predicting that rapid a rise of temperatures in such a short time frame are correct?

The interior of continents heats at least twice as fast as the global average. So a 6-degree Celsius rise in the global average means at least 12 degrees Celsius in the interior of continents – that means no question there is no habitat for humans in the interior. So you would have to be in a maritime environment.

“It’s difficult for me to imagine a situation in which plants, even land plants survive, because they can’t get up and move.”

I think even before we get to 6 degrees Celsius above baseline, we lose all habitats. We lose all or nearly all the phytoplankton in the oceans, which are in serious decline already as the result of an increasingly acidified ocean environment. It’s difficult for me to imagine a situation in which plants, even land plants survive, because they can’t get up and move. So without plants there is no habitat.

At a 6-degree Celsius temperature rise in the span of decades, there’s no way for evolution by natural selection to keep up with that. Already, climate change – which at this point has been pretty slow and what we would call linear change – already climate change is outpacing evolution by natural selection by at least a factor of 10,000, so I don’t see any way the planet is going to keep up.


Also read:  The Methane Monster Roars



Half of the members of the US Senate don’t believe humans cause climate change


The votes are in, and … half of the members of the US Senate don’t believe humans cause climate change.

This is a national embarrassment. Differences of opinion are one thing, but it’s far more troubling when half of the members of our most distinguished legislative body simply ignore facts supported by overwhelming scientific consensus.

Let’s take the Senate to school. Sign the climate science petition — when we get 50,000 signatures, Avaaz will run a poll quizzing schoolchildren on climate, then launch ads in the biggest papers showing that the US Senate is failing science class compared to middle schoolers. Sign now:

Things are bad in Washington. The first real legislation the new Senate passed this year? To build the climate-wrecking Keystone XL pipeline. The new chair of the Senate’s environmental committee is James Inhofe, the Senate’s climate denier-in-chief who quotes the Bible to claim humans can’t change the planet. But the climate science report from the National Academies of Science — commissioned by Congress itself — says the exact opposite!

The report’s #1 finding was that “Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused primarily by human activities, and poses significant risks to humans and the environment.” Going against this is like asking mathematicians for a number line, then saying that 1 is smaller than zero.

Deep down, most of the Senators who voted against scientific fact must know they’re full of it. The American people do — a new report just found that a majority want Congress to do more on climate. And our best shot at changing the game is to publicly embarrass them.  Sign on now, and help teach Congress a lesson that even 8th graders know:

Human-caused climate change is no joke. That so many of our supposed leaders are so out of step with basic science, settled years ago, means that the people are going to have to lead on this one. That’s a role the Avaaz community knows how to fill — we did it in New York in September with the People’s Climate March, and we can do it again now.

With hope,

Terra, David, John, Nataliya, Fatima, Ricken, and the Avaaz team

National Academy of Sciences “Climate Choices” Report summary

So Much Senate Climate Change Trolling (Think Progress)

US Senate refuses to accept humanity’s role in global climate change, again (The Guardian)

Most Americans support government action on climate change (NY Times)