A radiant bundle of exuberant riddles.

You came into this world as a radiant bundle of exuberant riddles. You slipped into this dimension as a shimmering burst of spiral hallelujahs. You blasted into this realm as a lush explosion of ecstatic gratitude. And it is your birthright to fulfill those promises.

I'm not pandering to your egotism by telling you these things. When I say, "Be yourself," I don't mean you should be the self that wants to win every game and use up every resource and stand alone at the end of time on top of a Mt. Everest-sized pile of pretty garbage.

When I say, "Be yourself," I mean the self that says "Thank you!" to the wild irises and the windy rain and the people who grow your food. I mean the rebel creator who's longing to make the whole universe your home and sanctuary. I mean the dissident bodhisattva who's joyfully struggling to germinate the seeds of divine love that are packed inside every moment.

Rob Brezsny

When I say, "Be yourself," I mean the spiritual freedom fighter who's scrambling and finagling and conspiring to relieve your fellow messiahs from their suffering and shower them with rowdy blessings.

- http://bit.ly/Pronoia

Image: Wassily Kandinsky

All Dogs Go to Heaven.

Over the Rainbow Bridge?

When I first painted my classic All Dogs Go to Heaven people often called it the Rainbow Bridge which was a name of a poem I hadn't read. This painting is titled All Dogs Go to Heaven #4 which I nicknamed "Over the Rainbow Bridge" http://jimwarren.com

With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do.

"The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind." 
- William Blake

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Like all weak men he laid an exaggerated stress on not changing one's mind."
- W. Somerset Maugham

Image: Dick Jemison, http://www.dickjemison.com/

Trees Are Awesome.

I read about massive industrial projects to absorb excess CO2 from our atmosphere using "carbon sequestration" technology. 

 Nature has had this technology for millions of years. 
It is low maintenance, has a small footprint, and is self managing. They're called trees. 

If we could only stop cutting them down, they may help save our planet. 

Here’s the Rainbow Eucalyptus, a tree that looks like a toddler has been set loose in the forest with some tins of paint and no responsible adult keeping an eye on them. Remarkably, this tree’s colouring is entirely natural. As the Rainbow Eucalyptus grows the bark falls away in patches at different times of year exposing the bright green inner bark. As time passes the inner back changes colour going blue, purple, orange and then maroon, giving the trees their incredibly colourful look.
These trees are naturally found in the rainforests of the Philippines, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea but they are also used in pulp-wood plantations for making paper. These rainforests are under threat from deforestation to create these plantations but that doesn't make these trees any less spectacular to look at.
We can stand together to protect forests and the incredible diversity of life they contain.
Trees. Are. Awesome.

Silicon Valley could force NSA reform, tomorrow. What's taking so long? | Trevor Timm http://gu.com/p/3zcgx

Climate change: The state of the science

Published on Nov 19, 2013
Produced by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme and Globaia and funded by the UN Foundation.

The data visualization summarises and visualizes several of the most significant statements in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) recent Fifth Assessment Report, (Working Group I summary for policymakers, the Physical Science Basis). In 2014, IPCC will publish summaries concerning societal impacts, mitigation and adaptation.

The statements and facts presented are derived from the IPCC summary for policymakers.

Our planet is vast. It is difficult to comprehend the scale. It is difficult too to comprehend the scale of humanity and the vast changes we've wrought in a lifetime. Population, production and consumption have grown exponentially. Roads, railways, airlines, shipping routes. The digital revolution. We've created a globally interconnected society. Evidence is mounting we've entered the Anthropocene.

Humanity is altering Earth's life support system. Carbon dioxide emissions are accelerating. Greenhouse gas levels are unprecedented in human history. The climate system is changing rapidly. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assesses the risks and options for societies. Its latest report states it is extremely likely humans are the dominant cause of warming in the past 60 years. Without deep emissions cuts, it is likely Earth will cross the target of two degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The target set by international policy. This could happen as early as 2050. If emissions keep rising at current rates, a four-degree rise by 2100 is as likely as not. This marks a vast transformation of our planet.

It is very likely heatwaves will occur more often and last longer. The Arctic will warm faster than the global average. It is likely sea ice will all but vanish in summer within decades if high emissions continue. It is very likely sea-level rise will accelerate. Cities and coastal areas are vulnerable. In general, wet regions are set to get wetter, dry regions drier. Monsoons are likely to become longer, their footprint likely to grow and downpours likely to intensify. The acidity of the ocean has increased 26% since the start of the industrial revolution. The full consequences of all these changes on the Earth system are unknown.

Humanity's carbon footprint is huge. Societies will need to adapt to climate change. The scale of change depends on decisions made now. Can we remain below two degrees? It is possible. But it is up to societies now to decide the future we want. For a likely chance of achieving the two-degree target, societies can emit another 250 billion tonnes of carbon. We burn about 10 billion tonnes of carbon a year. At current rates we will use this budget in about 25 years.
Download the IPCC Working Group I summary for policymakers (The Physical Science Basis) here: www.climatechange2013.org

Produced and directed by
Owen Gaffney and Félix Pharand-Deschênes

Félix Pharand-Deschênes

Owen Gaffney
International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme

Sarah Sherborne

GEOS-5 atmospheric model
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio
Suomi NPP VIIRS Nighttime Lights 2012
Earth Observation Group, NOAA National Geophysical Data Center
Landscan 2011tm High Resolution global Population Data Set
UT-Battelle, LLC, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Blue Marble: Next Generation, Reto Stöckli
NASA Earth Observatory, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Annual temperature anomaly compared to 1860-1899 period
GFDL-CM3 (historical and RCP8.5 experiments) 1860-2100
Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5)
September sea ice concentration
GFDL-CM3 (historical and RCP8.5 experiments) 1860-2100
Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5)
Sea level rise flooded areas
Centers for the Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS)
Cyclones tracks
International Best Track Archive for Climate Stewardship (IBTrACS)
Ocean acidification
Max Planck Institute Earth System Model, RCP 8.5

Continuo VII • Microcosmos • Mind over Matter

Commissioned by
International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme
For the launch of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group I summary for policymakers (Fifth Assessment Report)

Funded by
United Nations Foundation

Anne-Marie Doucet, Louve & Isis, Myles Allen, Catherine Boire, Wendy Broadgate, David Huard, Tatiana Ilyina, Kalee Kreider, Naomi Lubick, Jochem Marotzke, Johannes Mengel, Tim Nuthall, Sybil Seitzinger, Sturle Hauge Simonsen, Karen Smyth, Simon Torok, Denise Young

This is a product for the WELCOME TO THE ANTHROPOCENE website


How many deaths are acceptable? 1 million? 10 million? 100 million?

Our planet is reeling from massive amount of greenhouse gases being pumped in the atmosphere, at around 10 billion tons per year. The human race has already produced 370 billion tons of CO2 from the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Scientists expect a "tipping point" at 500 billion tons of CO2, that would lead to irreversibly altering the planet's climate for hundreds, and maybe thousands of years. At the rate humans are burning fossil fuels, that threshold will be reached in not a hundred, but  in 13 years.

There are approximately 2,500 billion tons of carbon fuel still in the ground. Energy companies reserve assets are counted as future earnings and are reflected on the projected balance sheets.  A spokesman for Exxon Mobil said: 'we are confident that none of our hydrocarbon reserves are now or will become ‘stranded''. A nice way of saying they have plans to dig them up somehow, as it is just business as usual.

 So, knowing what we know now, that the Earth has around a dozen years before we send the climate into a irreversible death spiral, the CEO's of the major energy companies must be asking their risk managers questions like this: " How much climate disruption can the world handle?" "When do we send the Government into a crisis mode where they shut down all of our energy producing revenue?" It's a nice way of saying "How much disruption can we cause and get away with?" "How many deaths are acceptable? One million? Ten million? One hundred million?"

This is an honest question. It is as honest as the report that emerged last Monday from climate scientists, which demonstrated that if Exxon Mobil keep their promise, then the planet will no longer function effectively. I thought that this would be Exxon’s posture. The company spent millions denying the science when it was still possible. I have always thought their business plan was to keep pouring carbon into the atmosphere. Exxon’s statements are easy to translate: “We are overheating the planet, we think we have the right to keep doing it, and we have the money to keep doing it.”

So with that information on the table, it’s time for action. We must start by bankrupting them. By  taking away the money that allows them to act with arrogance, while the planet’s scientists explained the impact of climate change on everything from crop yields to civil wars. Our day for reckoning is fast approaching. How we react to it will be our legacy for the future.

It's now increasingly recognised that the transition into the post-carbon era must involve not simply "adaptation" and "mitigation" – the stale buzzwords of bureaucracy - but entail radical transformation of our societies at multiple levels. Even the IPCC's forthcoming mitigation plan concedes: "Stabilising greenhouse gas concentrations will require large-scale transformations in human societies."

But perhaps no clearer manifesto for this transformation came from an unexpected editorial in the British Medical Journal, stating that: "The IPCC report shows the need for 'radical and transformative change.'… This is an emergency. Immediate and transformative action is needed at every level: individual, local, and national; personal, political, and financial." The editorial endorses the World Bank president's call for "divestment from fossil fuels and investment in green energy… If we are to avoid catastrophic climate change and bequeath a sustainable planet worth living on, we must push, as individuals and as a profession, for a transformed, sustainable, and fair world."

End of the Road

Economic and Climate meltdown or a distributed renewable energy infrastructure.

Only 500 generations ago, hunter-gatherers began cultivating crops and forming their tiny communities into social hierarchies. Around 15 to 20 generations ago, industrial capitalism erupted on a global scale.

A recent study reveals that modern civilization headed for Irreversible Collapse due to extreme and widening wealth inequality and economic exploitation. Natural and social scientists develop new model of how 'perfect storm' of crises could unravel global system. They found compelling historical data showing that "the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history."

In the last generation, the entire human species, along with virtually all other species and indeed the entire planet, have been thrown into a series of crises, which many believe threaten to converge in global catastrophe: global warming spiraling out of control; oil prices fluctuating wildly; food riots breaking out in the South; banks collapsing worldwide; major cities destroyed at home and abroad.
Cases of severe civilization disruption due to "precipitous collapse - often lasting centuries - have been quite common." Have happened along the recorded history. A new study has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilization could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution, what is widely known as poverty which all politicians promise to curb but end up only worsening it in both the industrialized and the third world nations. The operation of the civilization based on ever rising consumption is not conducive to it. Noting that warnings of 'collapse' are often seen to be fringe or controversial, the study attempts to make sense of compelling historical data showing that "the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history." Cases of severe civilization disruption due to "precipitous collapse - often lasting centuries - have been quite common."

We are running out of time. Without urgent mitigating, preventive and trans-formative action, these global crises are likely to converge and mutually accelerate over the coming decades. By 2018, converging food, water and energy shortages could magnify the probability of conflict between major powers, civil wars, and cross-border conflicts. After 2020, this could result in political and economic catastrophes that would undermine state control and national infrastructures, potentially leading to social collapse.

Anthropogenic global warming alone illustrates the gravity of our predicament. Global average temperatures have already risen by 0.7C in the last 130 years. In 2007, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) told the world that at current rates of increase of fossil fuel emissions, we were heading toward a rise in global average temperatures of around 6C by the end of this century, leading to mass extinctions on a virtually uninhabitable planet. The Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences has reported that current fossil fuel emissions are exceeding this worst-case scenario.

 By investigating the human-nature dynamics of these past cases of collapse, the project identifies the most salient interrelated factors which explain civilisational decline, and which may help determine the risk of collapse today: namely:
1) Exploding Human Population,
2) Climate Crisis,
3)Water Shortage,
4) Agricultural collapse producing widespread (global) starvation epidemic, and
5) Energy demands far exceeding the supply leading to the collapse of the industries and agriculture.

Many scientists concede that without drastic emissions reductions by 2020, we are on the path toward a 4C rise as early as mid-century, with catastrophic consequences, including the loss of the world’s coral reefs; the disappearance of major mountain glaciers; the total loss of the Arctic summer sea-ice, most of the Greenland ice-sheet and the break-up of West Antarctica; acidification and overheating of the oceans; the collapse of the Amazon rain-forest; and the loss of Arctic permafrost; to name just a few. Each of these ecosystem collapses could trigger an out-of-control runaway warming process. Worse, scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California at Berkeley now project that we are actually on course to reach global temperatures of up to 8C within 90 years.

But our over-dependence on fossil fuels is also counterproductive even on its own terms. Increasing evidence demonstrates that peak oil is at hand. This is when world oil production reaches its maximum level at the point when half the world’s reserves of cheap oil have been depleted, after which it becomes increasingly difficult to extract it. This means that passed the half-way point, world production can never reach its maximum level again, and thus continuously declines until reserves are depleted. Until 2004, world oil production had risen continuously but thereafter underwent a plateau all the way through to 2008. Then from July to August 2008, world oil production fell by almost one million barrels per day. It’s still decreasing, even according to BP’s Statistical Review 2010 (which every year pretends that peak oil won’t happen for another 40 years) – in 2009 world oil production was 2.6 percent below that in 2008, and is now below 2004 levels.

The situation is akin to a business or a corporation going bankrupt when the debts far exceed income. These factors in the civilization unsustainability produce to ultimate collapse when they converge to generate two crucial social features: 1) "the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity"; and 2) "the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or "Commoners") [poor]" These social phenomena have played "a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse," in all such cases over "the last five thousand years." This ultra-short five thousand years of history of humans on the planet is all that is available for study because remnants of only this period are accessible for interpretation. But this short span is sufficient. Currently, high levels of economic stratification are linked directly to over consumption of resources, by the "Elites" is based largely in industrialized countries responsible for both of these elements that produce civilization unsustainable:
"... accumulated surplus is not evenly distributed throughout society, but rather has been controlled by an elite. The mass of the population, while producing the wealth, is only allocated a small portion of it by elites, usually at or just above subsistence levels."

The social injustice lies in the fact that those producing the wealth actually never see it. That is very much akin to the Ponzi scheme or Pyramid fraud system which is the proper characterization of industrialized society which permits this to proceed in a legally condoned manner. At the heart of it lies the combustion of fossil fuels which drives machines that escalate efficiency of consumption of resources to a level that is incompatible with ecosystem sustainability and that leads to civilization unsustainableity.The study challenges those who argue that technology will resolve these challenges by increasing efficiency:
"Technological change can raise the efficiency of resource use, but it also tends to raise both per-capita resource consumption and the scale of resource extraction, so that, absent policy effects, the increases in consumption often compensate for the increased efficiency of resource use."

Extreme productivity increases in agriculture and industry over the past 200 years has come from "increased (rather than decreased) resource throughput," despite dramatic efficiency gains over the same period.
Modelling a range of different scenarios, Motesharri et al conclude that under conditions "closely reflecting the reality of the world today... we find that collapse is difficult to avoid." The right phrase is impossible however not difficult, in other words global economic meltdown (GEM) is inevitable and only a matter of when and the predictions around 2100 will prove to be highly accurate. It can appear as soon as 2035 or 2050 however. In the first of these scenarios, civilization:
".... appears to be on a sustainable path for quite a long time, but even using an optimal depletion rate and starting with a very small number of Elites, the Elites eventually consume too much, resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society. It is important to note that this Type-L collapse is due to an inequality-induced famine that causes a loss of workers, rather than a collapse of Nature." Another scenario focuses on the role of continued resource exploitation, finding that "with a larger depletion rate, the decline of the Commoners occurs faster, while the Elites are still thriving, but eventually the Commoners collapse completely, followed by the Elites." In both scenarios, Elite wealth monopolies mean that they are buffered from the most "detrimental effects of the environmental collapse until much later than the Commoners", allowing them to "continue 'business as usual' despite the impending catastrophe." The same mechanism, they argue, could explain how "historical collapses were allowed to occur by elites who appear to be oblivious to the catastrophic trajectory (most clearly apparent in the Roman and Mayan cases)." There is a strong need for the super-wealthy Elite to deny the climate crisis and the resource hyper-exploitation and remain oblivious to the impending catastrophe and they find the allocation of any of their time to ponder about it extremely unpleasant experience and an undesirable intrusion into their pleasure laden lifestyle. Applying this lesson to our contemporary predicament, the study warns that:
"While some members of society might raise the alarm that the system is moving towards an impending collapse and therefore advocate structural changes to society in order to avoid it, Elites and their supporters, who opposed making these changes, could point to the long sustainable trajectory 'so far' in support of doing nothing." There is a shallow validity of this argument of couple of hundred or even some 2000 years of sustained growth with ever escalating resource consumption as evidence of the sustainability of the irrational system of expecting an infinite output out of a finite system which is being mismanaged by humans and at the same time being devastated by the climate change or global warming.
Already, global warming has exacerbated droughts and led to declines in agricultural productivity over the last decade, including a 10-20 per cent drop in rice yields. The percentage of land stricken by drought doubled from 15 to 30 per cent between 1975 and 2000. If trends continue, by 2025, 1.8 billion people would be living in regions of water-scarcity, and two-thirds of the world population could be subject to water stress. By 2050, scientists project that world crop yields could fall as much as 20-40 per cent.

Maps released by scientists at the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE), University of Wisconsin-Madison, show that the earth is “rapidly running out of fertile land” for further agricultural development. No wonder, then, that world agricultural land productivity between 1990 and 2007 was 1.2 per cent per year, nearly half compared to 1950-90 levels of 2.1 per cent. Similarly, world grain consumption exceeded production for seven of eight years prior to 2008.

Apart from climate change, the ecological cost of industrial methods is fast eroding the soil – in the US, for instance, 30 times faster than the natural rate. Former prairie lands have lost one half of their top soil over about a 100 years of farming – but it takes 500 years to replace just one-inch. Erosion is now reducing productivity by up to 65 per cent a year. The dependence of industrial agriculture on hydrocarbon energy sources – with ten calories of fossil fuel energy needed to produce just one calorie of food – means that the impact of peak oil after 2014 will hugely constrain future world agricultural production.

But oil is not the only problem. Numerous studies show that hydrocarbon resources will become increasingly depleted by mid-century, and by the end of this century will be so scarce as to be useless – although we do have enough to potentially tip us over into irreversible runaway global warming.

However, the scientists do point out that the worst-case scenarios are by no means inevitable, and suggest that appropriate policy and structural changes could avoid collapse, if not pave the way toward a more stable civilisation. The inevitability however is built in the fact of intense resistance to the implementation of these policy changes to steer the ecosystems of the planet thus civilization towards sustainability. Neither is there any interest in narrowing of the ever widening wealth gap which would require a lot fairer wealth distribution which the super-wealthy Elite would never permit to happen nor is there any propensity to curb consumption or adopt renewability based sustainable lifestyle. The sustainable lifestyle is seen as a threat to their wealth by the super-wealthy Elite. The wealth flow towards super-wealthy requires a high population or a huge market size and high consumption of goods which must be designed to have only a short life such that there is a need to buy more in short time to keep the sales or the profits (“the bottomline”) high.
The two key solutions are to 1) reduce economic inequality so as to ensure fairer distribution of resources, and to 2) dramatically reduce resource consumption by relying on less intensive renewable resources and curb population explosion: "Collapse can be avoided and population can reach equilibrium if the per capita rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion."

The exponential expansion of modern industrial civilization over the last couple of centuries, and the liberal ideology of ‘unlimited growth’ that has accompanied it, has been tied indelibly to 1) the seemingly unlimited supply of energy provided by nature’s fossil fuel reserves and 2) humankind’s willingness to over-exploit our environment with no recognition of boundaries or constraints. But the 21st century is the age of irreversible hydrocarbon energy depletion – the implication being that industrial civilization, in its current form, cannot last beyond this century.

This means that this century signals not only the end of the carbon age, but the beginning of a new post-carbon era. Therefore, this century should be understood as an age of civilizational transition – the preceding crises are interlocking symptoms of a global political economy, ideology and value-system which is no longer sustainable, which is crumbling under its own weight, and which over the next few decades will be recognized as obsolete. The question that remains, of course, is what will take its place?

While we may not be able to stop various catastrophes and collapse-processes from occurring, we still retain an unprecedented opportunity to envisage an alternative vision for a new, sustainable and equitable form of post-carbon civilization.The imperative now is for communities, activists, scholars and policymakers to initiate dialogue on the contours of this vision, and pathways to it. Any vision for ‘another world’, if it is to overcome the deep-rooted structural failures of our current business-as-usual model, will need to explore how we can develop new social, political and economic structures which encourage the following:

Widespread distribution of ownership of productive resources so that all members of society have a stake in agricultural, industrial and commercial productive enterprises, rather than a tiny minority monopolising resources for their own interests. More decentralised politico-economic participation through self-managerial producer and consumer councils to facilitate participatory decision-making in economic enterprises. Re-defining the meaning of economic growth to focus less on materially-focused GDP, and more on the capacity to deliver values such as health, education, well-being, longevity, political and cultural freedom.

Fostering a new, distributed renewable energy infrastructure.

Structural reform of the monetary, banking and financial system including abolition of interest, in particular the cessation of money-creation through government borrowing on compound interest. Elimination of unrestricted lending system based on faulty quantitative risk-assessment models, with mechanisms to facilitate greater regulation of lending practices by bank depositors themselves. Development of parallel grassroots participatory political structures that are both transnational and community-oriented, by which to facilitate community governance as well as greater popular involvement in mainstream political institutions.

Development of parallel grassroots participatory economic institutions that are both transnational and community-oriented, to facilitate emergence of alternative equitable media of exchange and loans between North and South. Emergence of a ‘post-materialist’ scientific paradigm and worldview which recognizes that the cutting-edge insights of physics and biology undermine traditional, mechanistic conceptions of the natural order, pointing to a more holistic understanding of life and nature. Emergence of a ‘post-materialist’ ethic recognizing that progressive values and ideals such as justice, compassion, and generosity are more conducive to the survival of the human species, and thus more in harmony with the natural order, than the conventional ‘materialistic’ behaviours associated with neoliberal consumerism.

The model offers a highly credible wake-up call to governments, corporations and business - and consumers - to recognise that 'business as usual' cannot be sustained, and that policy and structural changes are required immediately. There is no realistic hope that either of the two key recommendations of narrowing of the wealth gap which is intricately linked to the consumption reduction with population shrinkage as one of its dimension would ever enter into policy considerations of the governments, corporate or even the consumers, who are too thoroughly brainwashed into keep up a high consumption pattern and feel distress about curbing consumption and even curbing population although the growing population size can be readily viewed by them as a signal of impending impoverishment.

Global Warning!

Peter D. Ward is a professor of biology and earth and space sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle. While studying the mass extinctions of the past, especially the Permian-Triassic, the Triassic-Jurassic and the Paleocene-Eocene, he and his associates have turned up an even greater threat of global warming- the release of toxic gases from the oceans.

In "Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What they Can Tell Us About Our Future" Ward outlines the causes of these major extinctions. Once thought to all have occurred because of asteroid strikes, these extinctions were quite different from the Cretaceous-Paleocene event, which apparently was triggered by such a cosmic calamity. Now the three are more probably connected to naturally occurring high carbon dioxide and methane levels, leading to the melting of polar ice caps, the shutting down of the oceanic conveyor system, and the proliferation of sulfur bacteria in anoxic oceans. This is ominous, given our current rise in greenhouse gases, as the oceans then rose to cover the shore far inland in low lying areas and the atmosphere turned poisonous.

We are already in the middle, not the beginning, of an anthropogenic global warming, caused by agriculture and deforestation, which began some 10,000 years ago but which is now accelerating exponentially; though the earliest wave of anthropogenic warming has been stabilizing and beneficial to human civilization, it appears to have the potential for catastrophic effects within our lifetime.

I read Tony Hallam's "Catastrophes and Lesser Calamities". Hallam is an oceanographic paleontologist; his research focuses on rising and falling sea levels, and on the causes and effects thereof, which he correlates very convincingly with extinction events, and which he presumes to be chiefly the result of tectonic plate movement. It  has radical implications for the current Darwinian model of evolution and  horrendously alarming implications for the fairly near future of humankind.

Mass extinctions periodically reshape life on Earth. The best known, the Cretaceous - Tertiary (K-T) boundary, ended the reign of the non-avian dinosaurs approximately 65 MYA when an asteroid roughly 10 kilometers wide gouged the Chicxulub crater near the Yucatan Peninsula, setting the stage for mammals, including Homo sapiens, to become the dominant terrestrial vertebrates.

Another extinction event, the Permian - Triassic (P-Tr), some 251 MYA, is informally known as 'the Great Dying.' Up to 96 percent of all marine species and 70 percent of terrestrial species were erased as global ecosystems crumbled. Life itself nearly died - and Peter Ward makes a compelling case in "Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They Can Tell Us About Our Future" that global warming was the primary culprit.

The occurrence of mass extinction events is not open to debate - the data is in the strata - available to any researcher diligent enough to decode the physical evidence. Unlike some global warming books "Under a Green Sky" carefully examines the fossil and climate record to justify models and simulations designed to predict future events. Ward, a paleontology professor at the University of Washington, and a NASA staff astrobiologist, invokes runaway global warming as the primary driver of the P-Tr extinction - and convincingly demonstrates that an anthropogenic (human-caused) encore is the obscene outcome of business as usual energy policies.

"Under a Green Sky" recounts how scientists examine mass extinctions and determine plausible causes based on paleontological and geological evidence. After the K-T event was convincingly attributed to an asteroid strike, extraterrestrial (ET) impacts because the default explanation for other mass extinctions. Ward avoided the ET impact bandwagon and pursued a more nuanced approach by examining the fossil record in painstaking detail to determine if extinctions happened slowly, in phases, or all at once - only the last option favors an impact hypothesis.

If the pace of extinction rules out an impact event, what other agent could kill so indiscriminately across land and sea on a global scale? Scientists can measure past atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide or methane by analyzing isotope ratios in rocks and counting stomata, the microscopic pores found on the under side of leaves. Both methods show that a major greenhouse episode took place at the end of the Permian and continued into the early Triassic. On land Therapsids (mammal-like reptiles) made way for the dinosaurs - a topic covered in Ward and Ehlert's superb Out of Thin Air: Dinosaurs, Birds, And Earth's Ancient Atmosphere.

Life's nemesis was ultimately found on the P-Tr ocean floor. ET impact events like the K-T extinction kill ocean life from the surface down - and most losses take place in the upper half of the ocean. Surprisingly, to impact partisans, the P-Tr killer struck first in the ocean depths and moved upward. Dark bands in P-Tr strata signal the presence of anoxic (without-oxygen) archaea and bacteria - potent producers of greenhouse accelerating methane or deadly hydrogen sulfide gas. How did these usually innocuous and ancient organisms devastate life on Earth?

The Pangean supercontinent formed halfway through the Permian. Availability of shallow aquatic environments diminished, ocean currents and weather patterns were radically altered, and seasonal monsoons lashed coasts separated by a vast interior desert. These changes stressed the global ecosystem - much as humanity does today - then global warming triggered by the Siberian Traps, the largest known volcanic eruption in Earth history, initiated the coup de grace by delivering massive amounts of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere over a 700,000 year period as the Permian drew to a close.

Temperatures soared 10 - 30 degrees Celsius (18 - 54 degrees Fahrenheit) as sulfur dioxide combined with water vapor to form acid rain. The ocean conveyor which carries warm and poorly oxygenated surface water toward the poles where it cools and is re-oxygenated before sinking and making its way back to the equator shut down.

The collapse of the ocean conveyer was catastrophic. Aerobic (with-oxygen) life in the deep sea suffocated as oxygen disappeared. Anoxic replacements quickly filled the vacant niche until the killing zone reached the surface of the global Panthalassic Ocean. Methanogenic archaea and bacteria produced prodigious amounts of methane - a far more efficient greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide - while sulfate-reducing microorganisms released unprecedented amounts of deadly hydrogen sulfide (rotten egg gas) into the ocean and atmosphere. The sky literally turned green as oxygen levels dwindled, the ozone layer disappeared, and hydrogen sulfide poisoned animals and plants. Pangaea, already arid, approached desiccation - more than enough to drive the mother of all mass extinctions.

Fast forward 251 million years to the present. Ward presents three possible Anthropocene scenarios:

1. Humanity manages to keep atmospheric carbon dioxide levels below 450 ppm (parts per million) by the year 2100. Earth warms somewhat, additional ice melts, but sea level rise is manageable and life goes on much as it has in the past - but any pending ice age will be indefinitely postponed. This outcome, as Ward notes, is hopelessly optimistic unless a massive initiative to limit or sequester greenhouse gas emissions is successfully implemented within this decade.

2. Greenhouse gas emissions accelerate as China and India continue to industrialize; carbon dioxide levels reach 700 ppm by the year 2100. Rising seas have forced countries to relocate some essential coastal infrastructure and deal with regional population displacements. Scientists note that the ocean conveyor recently shut down - triggering climate and weather pattern changes that even politicians can't ignore. Famine and scarcity replace consumer culture as societal norms. The future is bleak but technological civilization may continue to exist if it adapts quickly enough.

3. Carbon dioxide levels hit 1,100 ppm by 2100. The result resembles the worst parts of the bible - no adequate secular alternative is available. Earth is 10 degrees Celsius warmer. All of the world's ice is melting. Sea level rise is measured in meters. Much of the world's population is displaced by rising waters and vital infrastructure losses cannot be replaced. Polar bears are long gone, Homo sapiens is the latest endangered species. The ocean conveyor shut down decades ago. Signs of deep ocean anoxia are increasingly apparent and appalling - the sky turns a sickly shade of green. The sixth great mass extinction is underway. Remaining governments fight savage wars over scarce resources as entire ecosystems collapse. Natural selection and humankind are brutally reacquainted when medicine reverts to pre-industrial norms. Rampant famine and disease causes a global population implosion. Humanity will probably survive but a second stone age is the most likely outcome.

Those who forget the lessons of history - majestically inscribed into the paleontological and geological record - are doomed to repeat it. Educate yourself, become politically active, and force our leaders to change course before an anthropogenic apocalypse devours us all.

Global warming, contrary to some, is pretty much a done deal, at least with a 90% certainty. Yes, there is a 10% possibility that it is not happening, or that humans are not the main cause, but who wants to bet on 9 to 1 odds, especially when there is a high chance of catastrophe?

It amazes me that there are still some people who deny that the process is occurring or that it is to a large extent human caused. Some go so far as to ascribe the whole idea to a secret plan to increase the use of nuclear power! But the evidence for global warming keeps piling up, despite their views. As a biologist I have observed the creep ahead of the seasons even in the temperate zone, and the Arctic is having an even more marked change. Numerous studies have linked the rise in temperature primarily to human carbon dioxide production.