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Wednesday, October 2, 2019

"Covering Climate Now" - the "Anthropocene," is that actually a THING?

OK, that's funny. Good Photoshop job, whoever rendered that. I lived in Las Vegas for 21 years, 1992-2013. The iconic Vegas welcome sign next to McCarren was about 10 minutes from my house on Creek Water just south of the airport.

So, again, is the "Anthropocene" a 'thing,' worthy of naming in geological science? I recently read a contrarian mainstream media article calling it "a joke."

Well, before you decide (mostly as to the semantic nit-pickiness of that), read this excellent book.

‘We are in the Anthropocene!’ exclaimed Nobel-prize winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen in frustration at a conference in 2000. Why were his colleagues still calling our time the Holocene? Humans had so clearly reshaped Earth since the last ice age ended, the beginning of the Holocene Epoch. From this moment on, the proposal to rename Earth’s current interval of geological time after us, the Anthropos, has been gaining extraordinary traction—and critics—both inside and outside the academy... [pg 1]

Overwhelming evidence now confirms that humans are changing Earth in unprecedented ways. Global climate change, acidifying oceans, shifting global cycles of carbon, nitrogen, and other elements, forests and other natural habitats transformed into farms and cities, widespread pollution, radioactive fallout, plastic accumulation, the course of rivers altered, mass extinction of species, human transport and introduction of species around the world. These are just some of the many different human-induced global environmental changes that will most likely leave a lasting record in rock: the basis for marking new intervals of geologic time... [pp 2-3]

Who is responsible for the Anthropocene? Homo sapiens? The first farmers? Wealthy consumers of the industrial age? And is the Anthropocene necessarily a catastrophe—an environmental disaster and the end of humanity—or could there be a ‘good Anthropocene’ in which both humans and nature might thrive together into the deep future?... [pp 3-4]

In 1999, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber asked the pivotal question of the Anthropocene. ‘Why should Prometheus not hasten to Gaia’s assistance?’ If humans are indeed transforming Earth, what is to be done? Or more humbly—what can be done? Can humans help to bend Earth’s trajectory towards better outcomes for both humanity and non-human nature? 

The science is clear. Human well-being is generally improving at the same time that our societies are rapidly producing a hotter, more polluted, less biodiverse, and less predictable planet. The entire Earth system is being forced into a state with no analogue in its history, introducing the very real possibility of environmental changes so rapid and so powerful that even the most resourceful societies on Earth might not survive them. To continue along such a trajectory is to gamble with the very future of both human societies and the rest of life on Earth. What’s at stake, outside the domains of geology and stratigraphy, is a new account of our place in nature, our relationship with the rest of the planet.
This narrative raises some hard questions, like, what exactly are we doing with our planet? Is this a story of senseless destruction or a story of awakening and redemption? It is clear we have only just begun to understand the many dimensions, variations, and alternatives that could play out in the future of the Anthropocene... [pp 144-145]
Given the overwhelming scale, rate, and diversity of harmful global environmental changes produced by human societies, it is hard not to view the Anthropocene as an unmitigated disaster. It might well be viewed as an interval in which humanity, or at least, its wealthiest industrial societies, are driving themselves and the rest of the planet senselessly to ruin. The prospect of a ‘bad’ Anthropocene defined by toxic environments, declining human health and well-being, war, failed agriculture, submerged cities, catastrophic climate change, mass extinction, and societal collapse, might be unavoidable. Prometheus might be entirely the wrong metaphor. Icarus’ foolish hubris to fly in the face of overwhelming odds might prove more accurate. And yet, despite it all, some humans now do in fact fly. It’s actually safer than walking down the street... [pg 155]
Between (and beyond) these excerpts you will find a fascinating historical recounting, and compelling, nuanced support for calling our time "the Anthropocene" (BTW, who is Erle C. Ellis?).
Among many other points, I found his riff on the underappreciated "nitrogen" problem particularly interesting. CO2 and Methane are not the whole story.
I don't much give a flip what we call it; I conclude that we must deal with it for the good of our species. So, yes, it's a "thing" worthy of its name.


This arrived in my inbox from
“[T]he real problem with the climate change activist sensation Greta Thunberg is not that she is 16 years old. Rather, it is that she is a clueless fanatic who is considered brave and enlightened for promoting a cause that almost everyone agrees with without any study or reflection. And it is the duty of anyone who does not want clueless fanaticism to determine policies affecting billions to call it out as such.”
It'll take you all of five seconds to find press comments by Greta Thunberg where she says "don't take my word for it; ask the scientists."


ERRATUM: October 2nd today, 98F here in Baltimore (at BWI).


From Naked Capitalism: "Understanding why the Green New Deal won't really work." Elevator speech? "Post-carbon non-nuke renewables won't scale, not even close."

I'd like to hear Naomi Klein's reaction. Her new book comprises a detailed argument for "Green New Deal" legislation and policies.

Deal have plenty of serious arguments for why all this is doomed. Political paralysis in Washington is real. Even in a world where climate change–denying Republicans were swept out of power, there would still be plenty of centrist Democrats convinced that their constituents had no appetite for radical change. The plans are expensive, and getting the budgets approved would be a herculean effort. 

A better course of action, we hear, would be to advance climate policies that appeal to many on the right, like a shift from coal to nuclear power, or a small tax on carbon that returns the revenues as a “dividend” to every citizen. 

The main trouble with these incremental approaches is that they simply won’t get the job done. In order to win support from Republicans soaked in fossil fuel money, the price on carbon would be too low to make much of an impact. Nuclear power is expensive and slow to roll out compared with renewables—and that is not to mention the risks associated with uranium mining and waste storage. 

The truth is, we cannot lower emissions as steeply and as rapidly as required to swerve off our perilous trajectory without a sweeping industrial and infrastructure overhaul. The good news is that the Green New Deal isn’t nearly as impractical or unrealistic as its many critics claim. I have made the case for why that is throughout this book, but what follows are nine more reasons the Green New Deal has a fighting chance—a chance that will increase every time we go out and make the case...

Klein, Naomi. On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal (pp. 280-281). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Buy her book and read it carefully. I'll get to my concerns. Stay tuned.

More to come... #CoveringClimateNow

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