24 April 2022

And the shape of the world is changed

We are going to stop using fossil carbon.  (Maybe intentionally, maybe as a consequence of collapse, but one way or another, fossil carbon extraction is going to stop.)  Presently, fossil carbon is the foundation of all power; the global hegemon is the Oil Empire and the global economy is comprehensively dependent on fossil carbon inputs for everything.

Thwaites Glacier is going; the sea shall rise.  Rebuilding every container port in a decade is not an option.

It's generally acknowledged that we're going to overshoot 1.5 C average warming; we are very likely now inescapably going to overshoot 2.5 C of average warming which means field agriculture stops working. (You have to know roughly when and roughly how much about the rain to farm.)

If COVID-19 has a one percent chance to kill you and you catch it every year, we may observe that 0.99 to the 50th is 0.605.  That's three hundred and ninety five chances in a thousand that you'll be dead by fifty.  This is an indefensibly optimistic number; subsequent cases are worse, it looks a lot like the two constants of COVID-19 infection are brain shrinkage and cellular ageing, and you can catch it again in twenty days.  Plus that one percent is only the prompt lethality from the acute disease.  The expectation that this is the whole lethality is not well founded.  (Plus the charming possibility that the 1980s theoretical prediction about a sufficiently infectious disease that does not confer sterilizing immunity on the survivors leading to chaotic modes of spread is correct.  That would pretty much guarantee a steady supply of new variants at unpredictable times.)

The status quo ante pestis is gone; the Peace of Dives is gone, too, to whatever extent those were different things.

Politics is locked in a sort of "preservation of the existing order versus overt and immediate genocidal white supremacy"; insecurity management by "I have it good, keep it good" versus insecurity management by  "it's getting bad, kill every identifiable outgroup so I have relatively more".

Neither can possibly work; the good will not persist, on the one hand, and war is waste and desolation and loot does not last, on the other.  Some politics of resiliency — this is code for banning great personal wealth or anything else that functions as a "I'm rich, I'm fine" approach to insecurity management — would be nice, but of course it has to win the fight with the incumbent power structure, and there's no sign of anyone in politics with "maybe we could all live in the future?" views having escaped the desolation of morals to start talking about material outcomes.

Me, I'm going to take advantage of a startling warm day to go see if I can look at some birds.  (Our agricultural practices and nocturnal over-lighting having not yet rendered all of them extinct.)


JReynolds said...

I believe that you are correct in saying that the pre-2019 status quo is never coming back. We're stuck with COVID for the foreseeable future. Just how bad long COVID will be is still unknown, but all signs are pointing to 'very bad'.

It is really unpleasant to realize that on a f*cked-ness scale of 1-10, we're at a steady 10 (most f*cked) on the climate matter. And ecology / ecological diversity. And we're getting there on the politics front. And and and.

Makes me wonder when the famines will start in the global North? I imagine we'll be seeing a lot of dearth in the global South later this year as the lack of grain from UA makes a delicate situation worse. Will the progression be dearth there, higher prices here -> Famine there, dearth here -> Massive civil wars there, famine here, etc?

When can I emigrate to Iain M. Banks's Culture? I'd go like a shot, and I bet a lot of people would too. Just leave the billionaires behind.

(Some days I'd take being an ordinary citizen of the Commonweal. At least the people in charge there are committed to democracy and actually take personal responsibility for their actions. Although lacking a skill, and (probably) being unable to latch to a focus would mean that I'd have to develop a taste for turnip.)


Graydon said...


The raw turnip diet is reserved for those who choose not to work, not for those unable to work. The Commonweal would make an effort to find something you could do, on the one hand, and you'd be a very interesting source of information, on the other. So not much at risk of uncooked turnips.

I'd rather use "centre" (of centre, fringe, and intermediary) than "Global North"; Australia's in the Global North in that sense and this makes me doubt the utility of the taxonomy.

We'll see middle-class famine in the centre sometime before 2030; some combination of Thwaites, spillover supply chain collapse, accumulated COVID damage, and increasingly apparent Arctic amplification. (In a number of ways, this year isn't looking that good. And there's already a lot of food insecurity going on, even in the centre.)

mark said...

There is more than enough food on Earth to feed everyone whether or not a single blade of wheat gets harvested in Ukraine. The political will to provide for everyone is missing. To paraphrase William Gibson - The amenities are already here, they're just not evenly distributed.
The material fact is that there is currently enough of everything for everyone's needs. It may be that there will never be enough for even one person's wants.

Post 1914 world's great achievement is the massive reduction of the (relative) number of people living in poverty. Any optimistic scenario for a future society necessitates an even greater reduction (if not extirpation) of people living in opulence. And I do not see how we can get there from where we are now. Barring a political singularity of a magnitude equal or greater than the one from 1914-1945, that is.

I do not wish to live in interesting times.

Display Name said...

On a positive note, humans learn - it doesn't take generations for plague-mitigating behaviour to spread through a population. Admittedly, two years of pandemic hasn't been enough to get some people to wear masks, vaccinate, and follow basic hygiene principals. Within a few decades, the survivors might change their practices.

Graydon said...

+mark -

There is more than enough food today. That won't be true when field agriculture goes. If it can be true without field agriculture is an open question; I am inclined to think it can be, but it would push much more economic activity and particularly labour into food production. The effort to develop that capacity is not happening, at all, and it needs to be happening with very broad investment and maniacal urgency because we haven't got very long.

The forecasts of outcomes have generally be correct on the outcomes, and wrong on the timeline; Hansen et al had a really horrifying paper on what Thwaites going means, and their minimum timeline back in the late noughts was "another forty years". Current observational timeline is "five to ten years"; it might be wrong; an ice-free Arctic is taking longer than the 2012 predictions. But it's coming, sure as death, in both cases. (Then there's that cave in Minorca; the expected rise from the current atmospheric carbon load a couple years back was around five metres, but the error bars are big; you can't rule out fifteen.)

"Extirpation of opulence" is to my mind certainly a necessary precondition, yes. And I agree with you about the interesting times!

Graydon said...

+Display Name --
Humans learn, but the effective response -- air filtration -- takes current industrial productive capacity, and we can't keep that (fossil carbon inputs) and switching it to zero fossil carbon sources gets tricky in the presence of food insecurity and the plague.

Sensible people would already be replacing the housing stock for the Time of Angry Weather, and building in the filtration as the plague arrived. And it's not like the survivors are going to have many options for subsistence agriculture. I am trying to stay away from the "less than 20% dead, imperial collapse" takes on the Antonine plague because of the no-subsistence-agriculture issue; while I am not by nature an optimistic person I could wish people were more concerned about the unrecoverable vulnerability.

JReynolds said...

ISTM that the problem isn't so much 'can we feed everybody when field agriculture stops (partially or completely) working.'

Even if the answer is 'yes, just throw lots of capital and labour at $technologies and $physical_plant', the problem is that people need to eat every day. If there's any kind of gap during the transition, you get famine, and all of the things famine brings (i.e.: double digit percentage drops of global human population et numerous cetera).


Graydon said...

That "eat every day" part is why I would wish there was more concern.

I do not have the skill or the data access to look at the variance in hay prices, but if I could command StatsCan to do things, they'd be doing that. People don't generally grasp just how bad 2012 was, and how easy it would be for it -- how nearly certain it is that it shall -- happen again, only worse.

And really, once it goes, it goes; nothing works, and nothing much can be made to work. Forward is possible if we get our collective act together, but backwards is near enough to "everybody dies" in the post agricultural environment we are now certain to have.