As most people are not getting a big-picture view on the topic of global warming, I felt compelled to write this article to help. In short, a group of really smart people from MIT and elsewhere published a report in 1972 forecasting societal collapse before 2050 due to decreases in food/resources, and increases in pollution/global temperatures/destructive weather. After we look at the two most likely scenarios where things get really bad, I would like to look deeper into another scenario where we transform our society into a somewhat sustainable one beforehand.
In 2021, Gaya Herrington, “a Dutch sustainability researcher and adviser to the Club of Rome, a Swiss thinktank, made headlines after she authored a report that appeared to show a controversial 1970s study predicting the collapse of civilization was — apparently — right on time.” I will add that she is far from the only who is concluding this.
The picture below is her prediction of what things will look like under a business as usual(BAU2) scenario, where we continue to seek high growth. That looks like a pretty steep drop in population shortly after 2050.
Under her comprehensive technology(CT) scenario below, she says that “even if we innovate ourselves out of resource scarcity, we would probably see an increase in pollution from those adaptations unless we also limit our continued search for growth.” In order to make this happen we would need to start making bigger changes immediately. “The necessary changes will not be easy and pose transition challenges but a sustainable and inclusive future is still possible,” said Herrington. We will look more at pollution later, but under this scenario we would see things about get twice as bad.
Considering how we are experiencing a large increase in climate related disasters already, along with accelerating polar ice melt, we definitely have some hard times ahead. Below is a snippet from Oxfam. https://www.oxfam.org/en/5-natural-disasters-beg-climate-action
There is plenty of research showing that greenhouse gases including CO2 are causing warming. The Scientific Evidence on Climate Change
The carbon cycle is complicated, but the main ways it is sequestered is into the ocean, into the soil, and into woody plants. To learn more about the process involved in the last two, you can read my Introduction to Regenerative Agriculture.
“Already at least 3.3 billion people’s daily lives “are highly vulnerable to climate change” and 15 times more likely to die from extreme weather, the report says. Large numbers of people are being displaced by worsening weather extremes. And the world’s poor are being hit by far the hardest, it says. More people are going to die each year from heat waves, diseases, extreme weather, air pollution and starvation because of global warming, the report says. Just how many people die depends on how much heat-trapping gas from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas gets spewed into the air and how the world adapts to an ever-hotter world, scientists say.”
Although Herrington says that we will probably not pursue/achieve her last scenario(Stable World), I believe that if enough people become active on a local level to push for change, we could do it. Personally, I don’t think we can meet this goal if we maintain high industrial output levels, given the amount of energy involved alone, not to mention the energy used in the interlinked transportation sector.
Since possibly our biggest problem is global heating gasses(GHGs) like carbon dioxide, it is imperative that we switch to cleaner energy sources as soon as possible. As we look at the difficulties of this, I would like for us to consider how much easier it would be to make this transition if we simply cut our energy use beforehand, instead of increasing it.
Below is a chart showing an estimated breakdown of our energy system for 2021. In studying it, I think you will see that we are still very reliant on the burning of carbon based materials for our energy, while also being very far from meeting those energy needs with cleaner energy sources. I don’t think anyone would like to have energy cuts to Residential. I think we could cut a lot to Commercial, but it looks like Industrial and Transportation is where we really need to make cuts. The two grey boxes on the right are wasted energy, mostly from heat lost when burning fossil fuels(an example is older natural gas furnaces being less than 70% efficient). The newer high efficiency natural gas furnaces are above 90% efficient.
Despite cleaner energy production being much cleaner than fossil fuels, it requires considerable mining, transport, processing, manufacturing, more transport, installation, ect. to get to that point. All this requires a lot of energy. The US government report below also shows that the US would need to import a lot of the components during the next ten years to meet the goals. In importing, we should understand that we are basically shifting our energy use/pollution to another part of the planet. This includes carbon dioxide pollution which effects the planet as a whole sooner than something like water pollution.
The snippet from Earth.org below details similar problems with the solar supply chain, including issues around human rights. https://earth.org/solar-supply-chain/
“Simon Michaux and his team at the Geological Survey of Finland have been researching how much minerals and materials we have on earth to build our renewable energy. They’ve found that we simply do not have enough — and mining for those materials would bears a huge environmental cost.” There is a lot more related videos on this Planet: Critical channel.
There are nodules on the deep ocean floor that contain the needed rare earth metals, but it could harm the ocean ecosystem. I am guessing that it takes a lot of energy to harvest them also.
Climate scientist Paul Beckwith makes a good case in this video that we should start our energy reductions first with the ultra-wealthy and their lavish lifestyles.
There are many kinds of pollution, but I would like to take a close look at air, water, and soil pollution.
The following video details the health hazards of air pollution. Wildfire smoke can be bad, but smoke from burning fossil fuels is worse. In this video, they talk about how toxins are not only getting into our bodies through the lungs, but directly into the brain through the olfactory nerve.
Here are a few interactive live air quality maps.
In this one you can see the really bad air quality around the world. https://waqi.info/
Our problems with plastic pollution are building up. It is flowing down our waterways and building up in our oceans. These microplastics are also getting into clouds where they then end up covering the Earth, polluting our soil, and even getting into our food.
If you think we have a large ocean dead zone now, it could soon multiply.
As for water, we are headed towards worse water shortages at the same time as worsening water pollution.
“Between two and three billion people worldwide experience water shortages. These shortages will worsen in the coming decades, especially in cities, if international cooperation in this area is not boosted, warn UNESCO and UN-Water in the latest edition of the UN World Water Development Report.”
This article below was written by Jason Hickel, author of Less is More. I am hoping after seeing all the things I have shared, you will come around to seeing that degrowth of our economy must be a part of solving our problems. I am with Naomi Klien in that we need to relocalize our economies and produce most of our food in and around our cities. I am guessing subsidies can help make this happen. The average US farm to table distance is 1500 miles, and that takes a lot of energy. We may need to go all-in and drastically cut all our automobile use. Naomi talked about expanding light rail for transportation. We should curtail the growth of cities that are not walkable by surrounding them with food farms. We could build walkable, sustainable small towns and homesteads to handle population increases. We need to help heal the Earth and sequester carbon by returning vast areas back to nature, and switching to regenerative agriculture. The future is in our hands. Thank you for reading! I will post my favorite book list below.
Audiobooks: This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein The Web of Meaning, Jeremy Lent Power, Richard Heinberg Brave New Workplace: Designing Productive, Healthy, and Safe Organizations, Julian Barling The Divide: A Brief Guide to Global Inequality and Its Solutions, Jason Hickel The Resilience Imperative: Cooperative Transitions to a Steady-state Economy, Michael Lewis and Pat Conaty Less is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World, Jason Hickel Escape from Overshoot: Economics for a Planet in Peril, Peter Victor Sustainability: What Everyone Needs to Know, Paul B. Thompson, Patricia E Norris Winning the Green New Deal: Why We Must, How We Can, Varshini Prakash Science for a Green New Deal: Connecting Climate, Economics, and Social Justice, Eric A. Davidson Minding the Climate: How Neuroscience Can Help Solve Our Environmental Crisis, Ann-Christine Duhaime Cannibal Capitalism: How Our System is Devouring Democracy, Care, and the Planet and What We Can Do About It, Nancy Fraser The Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update, Donella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, Jordan Randers The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future, Erik M. Conway and Naomi Oreskes Climageddon: The Global Warming Emergency & How to Survive It, Lawrence Wollersheim Oneness Vs. the 1%, Kartikey Shiva and Vandana Shiva Inflamed: Deep Medicine and the Anatomy of Injustice, Raj Patel and Rupa Marya The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness and Healing in a Toxic Culture, Daniel Maté and Gabor Maté Davos Man: How the Billionaires Devoured the World, Peter S. Goodman Democracy May Not Exist, But We’ll Miss It When It’s Gone, Astra Taylor Remake the World: Essays, Reflections, Rebellions, Astra Taylor The Petroleum Papers: Inside the Far-Right Conspiracy to Cover Up Climate Change, Geoff Dembicki All Hell Breaking Loose, Michael T. Klare Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, Paul Hawken Shut It Down: Stories from a Fierce, Loving Resistance, Lisa Fithian The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy, Michael E. Mann and Tom Toles Reconsidering Reparations, Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor, Paul Farmer, Amartya Sen Toxic Inequality: How America’s Wealth Gap Destroys Mobility, Deepens the Racial Divide, and Threatens Our Future, Thomas Shapiro The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order, Gary Gerstle Civilizing the State, John Restakis The Brilliant Abyss: Exploring the Majestic Hidden Life of the Deep Ocean, and the Looming Threat That Imperils It, Helen Scales Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few, Robert Reich Invisible Trillions: How Financial Secrecy Is Imperiling Capitalism and Democracyand the Way to Renew Our Broken System, Raymond W. Baker Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism?, Robert Kuttner Half-Earth Socialism: A Plan to Save the Future from Extinction, Climate Change and Pandemics, Drew Pendergrass and Troy Vettese Break ’Em Up: Recovering Our Freedom from Big Ag, Big Tech, and Big Money, Zephyr Teachout The People, No: A Brief History of Anti-Populism, Thomas Frank Rendezvous with Oblivion: Reports from a Sinking Society, Thomas Frank The Servant Economy: Where America’s Elite is Sending the Middle Class, Jeff Faux You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, Howard Zinn A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn A People’s History of the World Book, Chris Harman The Nurture Effect: How the Science of Human Behavior Can Improve Our Lives and Our World, Anthony Biglan The Broken Ladder, Keith Payne The Economics of Belonging: A Radical Plan to Win Back the Left Behind and Achieve Prosperity for All, Martin Sandbu What it Took the Win, Michael Kazin The Nordic Theory of Everything, Anu Partanen The Invention of Nature, Andrea Wulf Fire in Flood, Eugene Linden No Is Not Enough, Naomi Klein The Pipeline and the Paradigm: Keystone XL, Tar Sands, and the Battle to Defuse the Carbon Bomb, Samuel Avery The Carbon Boycott: A Path to Freedom from Fossil Fuels, Samuel Avery Being the Change, Peter Kalmus The Urban Food Revolution: Changing the Way We Feed Cities, Peter Ladner The Way Home: Tales from a Life Without Technology, Mark Boyle A Trillion Trees, Fred Pearce Half Earth, Edward O. Wilson Deep Economy, Bill McKibben Owning the Sun, Alexander Zaitchik Cobalt: Cradle of the Demon Metals, Birth of a Mining Superpower, Charlie Angus Unlikely Radicals: The Story of the Adams Mine Dump War, Charlie Angus The Devil’s Element: Phosphorus and a World Out of Balance, Dan Egan Volt Rush: The Winners and Losers in the Race to Go Green, Henry Sanderson A Poison Like No Other: How Microplastics Corrupted Our Planet and Our Bodies, Matt Simon Ecological Footprint: Managing Our Biocapacity Budget, Bert Beyers and Mathis Wackernagel Bright Green Lies, Derrick Jensen Stamped from the Beginning, Ibram X. Kendi Lies My Teacher Told Me, James W. Loewen Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt’s Doomed Quest to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York, Richard Zacks Where We Go from Here, Bernie Sanders It’s OK to Be Angry About Capitalism, Bernie Sanders The Fighting Soul: On the Road with Bernie Sanders, Ari Rabin-Havt Death of the Liberal Class, Chris Hedges Unspeakable, Chris Hedges The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man 3rd Edition, John Perkin Touching the Jaguar, John Perkins Grocery Story: The Promise of Food Co-ops in the Age of Grocery Giants, Jon Steinman Stuffed and Starved, Raj Patel Grassroots Rising: A Call to Action on Climate, Farming, Food, and a Green New Deal, Ronnie Cummins Human Permaculture, Bernard Alonso and Cecil Guiochon The Clean Money Revolution, Joel Solomon Reclaiming the Commons for Common Good, Heather Menzies Living the 1.5° Lifestyle, Lloyd Alter The Future Earth, Eric Holthaus The Day the World Stops Shopping, J. B. MacKinnon Common Sense for the 21st Century, Roger Hallam A Brief History of the Earth’s Climate, Steven Earle H. sapiens: The Last 12,000 Years, Fil Munas Grand Transitions, Vaclav Smil Rivers of Power, Lawrence C. Smith Whitewash, Cary Gillam Why Marx Was Right, Terry Eagleton Left of Karl Marx, Carole Boyce Davies Planet of Slums, Mike Davis The Myth of Capitalism: Monopolies and the Death of Competition, Denise Hearn and Jonathan Tepper The Day the World Stops Shopping, J. B. MacKinnon Citizen Capitalism: How a Universal Fund Can Provide Influence and Income to All, Lynn A. Stout, Sergio Gramitto, and Tamara Belinfanti Capitalism, Alone, Branko Milanović How Change Happens, Duncan Green Building the New American Economy: Smart, Fair, and Sustainable, Jeffrey Sachs The Green New Deal, Jeremy Rifkin A Good War: Mobilising Canada for the Climate Emergency, Seth Klein Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance, Noam Chomsky A People’s History of the American Revolution, Ray Raphael Voices of a People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn/Anthony Arnove Truth Has a Power of Its Own: Conversations about a People’s History, Howard Zinn Everything Is Possible: Antifascism and the Left in the Age of Fascism, Joseph Fronczak Upheaval: How Nations Cope with Crisis and Change, Jared Diamond Debt: The First 5000 Years, David Graeber and David Wengrow Between the Rivers: The History of Ancient Mesopotamia, Alexis Q. Castor The Big History of Civilizations, Craig Benjamin 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed, Eric H. Cline Mind-Body Medicine: The New Science of Optimal Health, Jason Satterfield Understanding Cultural and Human Geography, Paul Robbins An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz The Jungle, Upton Sinclair King Coal, Upton Sinclair World’s End, Upton Sinclair The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck The Four Winds, Kristin Hannah Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell A Clergyman’s Daughter, George Orwell The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell
Youtube: Paul Beckwith Climate Scientist, The Real News Network, Thom Hartman Program, The Gray Zone
Regenerative agriculture books The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming, Masanobu Fukuoka Miraculous Abundance, Charles Hervé-Gruyer and Perrine Hervé-Gruyer Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life, David R. Montgomery What Your Food Ate, David R. Montgomery, Ann Bikle Grain by Grain: A Quest to Revive Ancient Wheat, Rural Jobs, and Healthy Food, Bob Quinn and Liz Carlisle Soil: The incredible story of what keeps the earth, and us, healthy, Matthew Evans The Edible Ecosystem, Zach Loeks