Saturday, December 31, 2022

A Science Bomb Cyclone for the New Year

"The model proposed by Hansen reveals ten degrees of heating is already baked into Earth’s surface temperature, but has been masked by aerosol cooling"

James Hansen has always been a good climate scientist searching for an even better editor. Scientists, engineers, writers and poets all train differently and may even have different thought patterns and gut microbiomes. Occasionally you get a hybrid—Neil deGrasse Tyson; Carl Sagan; James Burke—who can both do the nerdy computations and communicate to receptive ignoramuses. Hansen is not one of those. He follows the orthodox scientist cast—defensive; assertions couched in equivocation; tentative conclusions; arcane arithmetic and acronyms.

When President George W. Bush, in his second week in office, created the National Energy Policy Development Group, headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, the Veep realized NEPDG would need to mention the risk of climate change in its report. His predecessor Al Gore had bequeathed him that as a job description. So, Cheney asked Hansen to come to the White House and make his best case. It was a disaster. Cheney, an oil man like the President, had no interest in recommending anything other than more drilling. Hansen played right into that, giving a mind-numbing powerpoint about Watts per square meter, forcing and feedbacks, percentages of confidence, framed with the usual caveats of uncertainty and asking for more research funding for NASA, NOAH, and NAS. Committee eyes glazed over. He was politely ushered out. He was no Carl Sagan.

Cheney’s committee then unrolled the map of Iraq’s oil fields across the NEPDG conference table and lamented the lack of pretext for taking control of that. That was seven months before Saudi kamikaze pilots crashed hijacked planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

Hansen can be forgiven this missed moment in history because his token appearance had been a set-up to begin with. He redeemed himself by getting arrested outside the White House and at the Keystone pipeline as a climate protester, over and over.

An extraterrestrial geosystems expert, his work for NASA Goddard Inst. for Space Studies (GISS) comparing Earth’s global temperature to that of Venus was first published in 1981 and updated in 1988. He risked his career testifying to Congress that year over the orders of his superiors. His testimony, that Earth had warmed 0.5-0.7°C in the previous 100 years, that the four warmest years on record were all in the 1980s, and that this warming was mostly man-made, poked a hornets’ nest. In June 2006, Hansen appeared on 60 Minutes stating that the George W. Bush White House had edited climate-related press releases reported by federal agencies to make global warming seem less threatening (like the phrase “global warming” itself). Physicist Freeman Dyson criticized Hansen's climate-change activism, alleging he “consistently exaggerates all the dangers.” New York Times columnist Andrew Revkin wrote, "Dr. Hansen has pushed far beyond the boundaries of the conventional role of scientists.” They tried to push the toothpaste back into the tube.

I have my own disagreements with Hansen, as I have said here before. He is absurd in his claims about safe, clean, nuclear energy. He underestimates the terrawatt potential and cost reductions of renewables at scale. But I respect his integrity and willingness to be jailed to make a dramatic point. I applaud his wordsmithing of the “Faustian Bargain” and “Young People’s Burden.” This is perhaps why I am a bit disappointed that his latest research paper, placed in the public domain for early review before formal journal peer-review has been completed, is so opaque and poorly crafted. It is 49 pages of superdense U-238 surrounding a plutonium core.

Here are the top takeaways from Hansen’s latest and in future posts I will dive a little more deeply and bring in a few other recent papers to lend color and texture. Warning: this is not for the faint at heart.

Takeaway #1

From Robert Chris, Visiting Fellow at the Department of Geography, The Open University, UK:

The core message is that both the magnitude and response times of human causes of climate change and responses to it have been seriously misrepresented by the scientific community.  This has been due largely to inadequacy in the manner in which climate models have handled uncertainties relating to both the warming effect of a doubling of atmospheric greenhouse gases and the impact of human-generated aerosols. 

The model proposed by Hansen and 14 co-authors drawn from the top ranks of the required specialties brings in previously neglected externalities and paleoclimate data to show ten degrees of heating is already baked into Earth’s surface temperature but has been masked by aerosol cooling (“global dimming”), delayed ocean mixing, and lag response time for large systems. 


They estimate that by 2050 surface temperature will have increased by 2°C and 65% of the remaining 10°C could occur within a century assuming current CO2 and trace GHG emissions levels are maintained and the aerosols continue to be reduced until they are largely eliminated.

Takeaway #2

Equilibrium heating will not be reached by 2100, which is as far as the IPCC AR6 report and most studies go. By the end of this century, only half to two-thirds of the heating caused by our past emissions will have been felt. Full equilibrium heating will not be reached for approximately 6000 years.

Hansen writes:

Our pragmatic evaluation based on real-world data is an essential antidote to assessments associated with the annual United Nations COP (Conference of the Parties) meetings, which give the impression that much progress is being made and it is still feasible to limit global warming to as little as 1.5°C. Once governments and the public understand Fig. 1, they should recognize it as a wake-up call about the untenable situation that we are creating for young people.

Takeaway #3

Since anything above 5 degrees likely portends human extinction and anything above 3 degrees might irrevocably trigger tipping points that cascade to 5 degrees, urgent removal of the climate-forcing agents is required. Thus, carbon dioxide removal and solar radiation management are recommended.

While these are popularly labeled “geoengineering” and carry unquantified risks, Hansen points out that what we have been doing for the past 8000 years is also geoengineering with heretofore unquantified risks, so you should ask what is the risk of not acting to stop the forcing?

Personally, I think the term “geoengineering” has become politically charged and should be retired. Painting streets and buildings white, as they do in the Greek islands, is solar radiation management. Turning sewage sludge into biochar is carbon dioxide removal. What we want to avoid is uncontrolled experimentation with the entire planet’s homeostasis. Hansen agrees.

Takeaway #4

One key number is the rate of heating that can be expected once the concentration of greenhouse gases doubles. Svante Arrhenius was the first person to predict that emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels and other combustion processes were large enough to cause global climate change. He calculated in 1906 that any doubling of the percentage of carbon dioxide in the air would raise the temperature of the Earth's surface by 4°C; and if the carbon dioxide were increased fourfold, the temperature would rise by 8°C.


As shown in Hansen’s Figure 2 chart taken from ice cores in Greenland and Antarctica, Earth's average temperature, including during ice ages, corresponds to 225 ppm CO2e (CO2e means for all greenhouse gases, including trace gases, expressed as equivalent to CO2). Average concentration at peak interglacials is about 278 ppm. The doubling threshold for a warm state would therefore be 556 ppm. Hansen’s paper calculates present CO2e to be 561 ppm. In 1979, Charney et al refined Arrhenius’s calculation to estimate a doubling temperature of 3 degrees. Hansen refines it again and arrives at 7 to 10°C, experiencing half of that this century and the remainder in later years.

Takeaway #5

Humans have been geoengineering the climate for at least 8000 years. The reason we are not entering another ice age now and had all those millennia of gorgeous, predictable weather and unvarying coastlines upon which to build cities and found civilizations was because we warmed the Earth ever so slightly by conversion of forest to farm starting 8000 years ago and the methane released by rice farming starting 6000 years ago. We also mined and burned peat, killed the great whales that ran the deep ocean carbon mixing, and domesticated animals. We actually, accidentally, achieved a beneficial climate stasis for the first time in Earth’s history. We just couldn’t leave well enough alone. We had to dig and drill up Earth’s stores of fossil carbon and litter the atmosphere and ocean with that, which is what got us into our present predicament.

With most of the heat due and payable but masked by air pollution, we are damned if we keep emitting and damned if we don’t. That’s the Faustian Bargain. In one fell stroke, Hansen and team validated both the Ruddiman Apostasy and the McPherson Paradox.

The release of these findings, soliciting public comment ahead of peer review, has been met with howls from scientists, influencers, and various interested parties. That firestorm is still raging at this writing. I will describe more about all this in our next installment.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Professor Cobblepot's Marvelous Final Engagement in the Freeverse Theater State

"When you have two competing narratives, each hermetically sealed and intractable, about all you can do is live by your own best lights."


In April 2019, when the Mueller Report dropped and PBS NewsHour/Frontline ran a one-hour special, I began calling Trump “President Cobblepot” because of the uncanny resemblance to Batman’s nemesis, Penguin, who manages to get himself popularly elected Mayor of Gotham and then uses the position to continue building his crime empire and eliminating rivals.

This American drama is a four year series, eight if it gets renewed, and the duel between narratives is what keeps the audience.… Time will tell whether Cobblepot’s short game is as good as Mueller’s long game.

As it turns out, Cobblepot’s short game was every bit as good as Mueller’s long game, and he survived not one but two impeachments and later, the fraud conviction of his real estate company, and now is running again for President. As the January 6 Committee Report alludes, Cobblepot could be POTUS today had he been able to muster just a little more support from other gangs during and immediately after the 2020 election.

In my 2019 post, Professor Cobblepot’s Marvelous Purple Fog News Machine, I closed with the scene of Sunrise Movement youths paying an unwelcome call on Senator Diane Feinstein:

The Senator rebuffed their appeal for the Green New Deal by trying to school them in her reality — political compromise, baby steps, scaffolding, the power of seniority, million-vote pluralities. “It’s not going to get turned around in 10 years,” she pronounced.
They weren’t buying that. Their reality is dying polar bears, sinking coastlines, famine, war, a significant reduction in their own life expectancies. “Senator, if this does not get turned around in 10 years you’re looking at the faces of the people who are going to be living with these consequences.”
When you have two competing narratives, each hermetically sealed and intractable, about all you can do is live by your own best lights, keep educating yourself, and do as best you can to help the children prepare. The light of hard physical reality may eventually be discovered by those of Feinstein’s fogginess, stumbling along, but if you can already see the light, you should be moving to high ground, building a fire perimeter, growing food and storing water. And vote out the fossils.

A year later, after a couple more Frontline specials, my post, Thugs and Circuses: President Cobblepot’s Season Finale dissected the Russiagate hoax, the Hunter Biden counternarrative and the more tedious, soon-to-be-forgotten historic details of Cobblepot’s mental pathology.

Readers who have been with this blog for some years may recall my posts about the stages of empire collapse. One early-stage common to both the Roman and the Mayan Empires has been termed the “Theater State.” In this phase immediately preceding contraction and disintegration, the ruling classes are bored and jaded with their wealth, so much so that they engage in brutal spectacles like throwing Christians to lions, pitting top-ranked gladiators against one another, disemboweling slaves on top of pyramids, or having sporting Super Bowls requiring the losing team be sacrificed. As the world watches, our circus moves to the floor of the Senate next week, pitting a real-estate-grifter-turned-reality-TV-host against the US Constitution. Best of all, even if Cobblepot is removed in this season’s finale, viewers can vote to renew the show for another four years, come November.

Cobblepot was not removed. He was impeached a second time, with the same null result. Then he lost the election. Now he has been investigated and referred to the Justice Department for prosecution, but the man is 76 years old. He will die before he serves a day for any of the crimes of which he stands accused. And honestly, doesn’t it serve the Democrats more to ride in, count coup, and ride off whooping, than to deal a death blow?

The January 6 Committee report Executive Summary listed 17 specific findings “on the full extent of the ongoing planning by President Trump, John Eastman, Rudolph Giuliani and their associates to overturn the certified election results” resulting in six deaths, destruction of portions of the Capitol, and hundreds of later arrests and prosecutions. In painstaking detail, the Committee rehashed Trump’s statements in tweets, phone calls, and discussions with aides and others to provide his mens rea (criminal intent). Knowing his narcissistic personality disorder, we can easily predict his response to the Committee report and any legal action that may flow from it. There is no suspense in this melodrama.

Not to seem too cynical, the US judicial system has been corrupted in much the same way that its public health system has. They are broken. Pay-to-play has replaced rational social goals. Immigration is broken. Gun laws are broken. Education is broken. It is not atypical of the terminal phase of empires. In getting out of political scrapes, the coin of the realm is coins of the realm.

The first bold heading in the Committee Report after “Executive Summary: Overview of the Evidence Developed” is “The Big Lie.” This phrasing is more important than the Committee may suspect. When histories are written by archaeologists from Mars sifting through the carbonized layers of North America, they may well mark the Trump Presidency as the start of the Post Truth Epoch in the lead-up to the Great Human Extinction (also called The Jackpot). As the editorial page of The New York Times asked readers on December 7, 2022:

How, in a matter of less than a decade, could this once-proud country have evolved to the point that there is a serious debate over choosing a presidential candidate who is a lifelong opportunist, a pathological and malignant narcissist, a sociopath, a serial liar, a philanderer, a tax cheat who does not pay his bills and a man who socializes with Holocaust deniers, who has pardoned his criminal allies, who encouraged a violent insurrection, who, behind a wall of bodyguards, is a coward and who, without remorse, continually undermines American democracy?

On March 4, 2020, a Wednesday of no particular significance, the president of the United States told seventy-three lies. The day before that, he lied forty times. By one count he lied 30,573 times over 4 years. A magazine writer noted,

That an elected official plays loose with the truth is hardly shocking — the idea of a lying politician is so commonplace as to be a cliché. What is remarkable, though, is the number of people who, despite incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, don’t seem to think Trump is lying at all … an NPR/PBS NewsHour poll showed that 37 percent of Americans, more than a third of the country, said they still had a good amount or great deal of trust in Trump as a source of information….

One of the sacrifices we made when we switched to the cyber “freeverse” model of defining truth — everybody has their own, go ahead and freak freely — is that we cast off moorings that turn out to be pretty important for keeping a society organized. Will we ever again agree on what is real and who is qualified to decide? Remember that question a year from now, when the Committee to Investigate the January 6 Committee holds its hearings in prime time.

Truthfully, the post-truth meme is not especially new or original. In ancient cultures, it was personified by the character of the Trickster, El Coyote, Punch. The Trickster portrays himself as a guide, but he is a false guide, there to lead you astray. In our context, The Trickster is the claim that in modernity liminality is a permanent state, that there are no valid moorings, or that modern life is patently absurd. We’ve seen this before — the Dada movement in Switzerland and Paris 1916–24 (“Dada” from what a Swiss child calls a rocking horse); Hegel’s democratic, history-is-over utopia; Camus and Kierkegaard’s absurdism.

The way back from post-truth is straightforward but not simple. We should not trust Jeff Bezos’ Washington Post any more than we trust Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal or Sun Myung Moon’s Washington Times. We must train to diversify to better discern. Your poor dental hygienist, forced to an 8-hour daily diet of Fox and Friends, is clearly brainwashed and should not be trusted to even tell you directions to the washroom. The Villages in central Florida should not have their own representative in Congress.

The digital Big Bang that liberated the world from the tyranny of news has imposed its own forms of oppression, including woke pronouns and cancel culture. Recognize the illegitimacy of algorithmic governance, whether in the ideological predilections of Silicon Valley progressives or the availability of Cambridge Analytica to compel a political agenda. Anything that can game the Facebook ad structure can as easily game you, if you let it.

Former CIA Analyst Martin Gurri who predicted Brexit and the rise of Trump via social media manipulation, writes: “The waning of post-truth will not mean that we hold hands in a vast circle of universal agreement about the nature of the world.” Rather, the world is the way that the Peacemaker revealed it to the Haudenoshaunee — that there is no peace without justice, and that justice itself is never complete but rather a never-ending process of making daily judgments and decisions from your highest moral position.

As above so below. For nations as for people there is no peace without justice, and it is a process, not an end. It had seemed for a while that as the US empire overreached its energy foundations and went into decline that China — or Asia more generally — would supplant El Norte as global hegemon. That illusion is crumbling. The world as a whole is deglobalizing into regional fiefdoms as it moves into the Age of Limits. The Trump drama is soup du jour for the Mayan Theater State or the Roman Colosseum, but honestly, the World Cup final was better entertainment.

This is what the young people tried to tell Diane Feinstein. This is what the latest paper from climate scientist emeritus Jim Hansen is all about. I will start a longer series on Hansen’s forecasts next week. We should pay more attention to what is really going on than being distracted by the farcical choreography.

“All of humanity is in peril if each one of us does not dare, now and henceforth, always to tell only the truth and all the truth, and to do so promptly — right now.”

– R. Buckminster Fuller

Meanwhile, let’s end this war. Towns, villages and cities in Ukraine are being bombed every day. Ecovillages and permaculture farms have organized something like an underground railroad to shelter families fleeing the cities, either on a long-term basis or temporarily, as people wait for the best moments to cross the border to a safer place, or to return to their homes if that becomes possible. There are still 70 sites in Ukraine and 300 around the region. They are calling their project “The Green Road.”

The Green Road is helping these places grow their own food, and raising money to acquire farm machinery and seed, and to erect greenhouses. The opportunity, however, is larger than that. The majority of the migrants are children. This will be the first experience in ecovillage living for most. They will directly experience its wonders, skills, and safety. They may never want to go back. Those that do will carry the seeds within them of the better world they glimpsed through the eyes of a child.

Those wishing to make a tax-deductible gift can do so through Global Village Institute by going to or by directing donations to

There is more info on the Global Village Institute website at

The COVID-19 pandemic destroyed lives, livelihoods, and economies. But it has not slowed climate change, a juggernaut threat to all life, humans included. We had a trial run at emergency problem-solving on a global scale with COVID — and we failed. 6.6 million people, and counting, have died. We ignored well-laid plans to isolate and contact trace early cases; overloaded our ICUs; parked morgue trucks on the streets; incinerated bodies until the smoke obscured our cities as much as the raging wildfires. We set back our children’s education and mental health. We virtualized the work week until few wanted to return to their open-plan cubicle offices. We invented and produced tests and vaccines faster than anyone thought possible but then we hoarded them for the wealthy and denied them to two-thirds of the world, who became the Petri-plates for new variants. SARS jumped from people to dogs and cats to field mice. The modern world took a masterclass in how abysmally, unbelievably, shockingly bad we could fail, despite our amazing science, vast wealth, and singular talent as a species.

Having failed so dramatically, so convincingly, with such breathtaking ineptitude, do we imagine we will now do better with climate? Having demonstrated such extreme disorientation in the face of a few simple strands of RNA, do we imagine we can call upon some magic power that will change all that for planetary-ecosystem-destroying climate change?

As the world emerges into pandemic recovery (maybe), there is growing recognition that we must learn to do better. We must chart a pathway to a new carbon economy that goes beyond zero emissions and runs the industrial carbon cycle backward — taking CO2 from the atmosphere and ocean, turning it into coal and oil, and burying it in the ground. The triple bottom line of this new economy is antifragility, regeneration, and resilience. We must lead by good examples; carrots, not sticks; ecovillages, not carbon indulgences. We must attract a broad swath of people to this work by honoring it, rewarding it, and making it fun. That is our challenge now.

Help me get my blog posted every week. All Patreon donations and Blogger or Substack subscriptions are needed and welcomed. You are how we make this happen. Your contributions are being made to Global Village Institute, a tax-deductible 501(c)(3) charity. PowerUp! donors on Patreon get an autographed book off each first press run. Please help if you can.


“There are the good tipping points, the tipping points in public consciousness when it comes to addressing this crisis, and I think we are very close to that.”

— Climate Scientist Michael Mann, January 13, 2021.

Want to help make a difference while you shop in the Amazon app, at no extra cost to you? Simply follow the instructions below to select “Global Village Institute” as your charity and activate AmazonSmile in the app. They’ll donate a portion of your eligible purchases to us.

How it works:

1. Open the Amazon app on your phone
2. Select the main menu (=) & tap on “AmazonSmile” within Programs & Features
3. Select “Global Village Institute” as your charity
4. Follow the on-screen instructions to activate AmazonSmile in the mobile app

The Great Change is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Who is the Sam Bankman-Fried of the Biodiversity Loss Space?

"Today, 90 percent of Earth’s animal biomass is in the eight billion people on the Earth and their cows, chickens, pigs, dogs, cats and goldfish."

On December 1st,
whale watchers near Maui spotted a female humpback they had not been hoping to see. The name given to her by British Columbia conservationists 3000 miles away was Moon. They knew it was her when they saw how she dragged the second half of her body through the water, using only her pectoral fins in a breaststroke-like motion. She was emaciated and covered in lice, necrotic tissue falling away and floating in her wake.

After being struck by a boat and having a broken back, Moon continued one final migration back to the place of her birth, arriving, in great pain, weeks behind most of her pod. She was more than 4,800 km from where Canadian researchers first took note of her injury. She had used up her fat stores to make the herculean journey and, with no food source in the tropical spawning grounds, she is expected to die soon. Hold that thought for a few minutes.

The Post-Trust World

Sam Bankman-Fried is the founder and CEO of the cryptocurrency exchanges FTX & FTX-US and cryptocurrency trading firm Alameda Research. The thirty-year-old’s personal net worth peaked at $26 billion before November 8, 2022, when it dropped 94 percent in a single day, exposing a major fault line in crypto as a presumedly inviolable store of secure wealth. SBF had created, it now appears, an even more grandiose fiction than the paper pictures of dead presidents and living monarchs that one carries around in wallets made from the skin of dead animals.

He was ensconced at the galactic center of the Cryptoverse, a thief and looter hiding in plain sight. His only mask was effective altruism, pretending that he was pursuing an altruistic career by earning to give. In truth, he was skimming off billions of real dollars and euros in the style of Bernie Madoff or Michael Milken, using his money to buy friends in high places. His sunset arrest and extradition from the Bahamas will now complete that comparison. Innumerable small islands in the Bahamas, inhabited only by migratory seabirds, have been spared from crypto-palace tiki bars and swimming pools.

There is another, much larger Ponzi scheme that has been running for the last ten thousand years, also hiding in plain sight. According to an estimate by Vaclav Smil, after the last ice age, humans and their livestock were a mere 0.1 percent of the entire live weight of mammalian biomass. The other 99.9 percent was in elephants, deer, gorillas, and so on. Today, 90 percent of animal biomass is in the eight billion people on the Earth and their cows, chickens, pigs, dogs, cats and goldfish. The turn planetary evolution has taken at the behest of the Ponzi cabals shows no signs of changing direction, or even slowing.

Global production of meat and milk is projected to more than double by 2050. When considering this in terms of land area, consider too that for a natural elephant herd to be sustained requires a minimum of 1000 square miles (2600 sq. km) of habitable reserve, although a sensitivity analysis shows extinction probability to be elevated by slight variations in things like droughts and floods, which we know will increase dramatically this century. Of the parks and game reserves in Central and Southern Africa, 35 percent are now being infringed by human expansion, particularly by cattle ranches.

Raising and slaughtering our 55 billion domestic land animals consumes 30 percent of the Earth’s entire land surface and 80 percent of the total land occupied by humans. Subtracting feed crop production, the area currently taken by grazing cattle is 26 percent of the ice-free land surface of Earth.

That’s the Ponzi. When you run out of land surface and desertify the ocean there is no new sucker to buy in and keep the game alive. The question I began with is whether there is the equivalent of a Sam Bankman-Fried who will do for the destruction of the planet what SBF did for crypto, which is to bring it to a crashing pause. Maybe that person is Huang Runqiu.

Plenty of hope has been poured into the UN’s COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal this week, but at this writing, it is shaping up as another COP15—Copenhagen in 2009. I recall standing in long lines in the blowing snow waiting to get into the UN meeting hall on December 17, 2009. With ambitious plans drawn up in advance, the delegates were expecting to ink a deal on climate that would save humanity, only to have those hopes dashed by last-minute finagling from the rich countries, principally the USA, that torpedoed the deal and nearly ended 50 years of UN multilateralism. It was from that embittering experience that the Paris Agreement emerged six years later, at COP21, with the underdeveloping world refusing to go under the thumb again. Could that replay in Montreal?

North America has lost about one-third of its birds in the last 50 years. That's three billion birds not filling the skies.

Right now, entrenched positions from the EU, the Africa group and Latin American countries raise the likelihood of a standoff. Because this COP was to have been in Kunming before the re-emergence of Covid, China plays an outsized leadership role but has been anything but leading. Huang Runqiu, China’s environment minister and the president of the COP, has been hesitant to speak to international media. In meetings with NGOs, he has openly worried that there are too many unresolved issues to be able to make sensible decisions. Trust China to take the long view. Oddly, issues of money and digital biopiracy are among the unresolved sticking points. Sam Bankman-Fried’s specter hangs over the talks.

Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, the former Costa Rican environment minister and the head of the hundred-billion-dollar Global Environment Facility, said, “I have never seen such a tense, aggressive environment. It used to be very different.”

Delegates have thrashed out 22 different targets for the Montreal meetings. They include reducing invasive species and pesticide use, cutting food waste, ensuring fair access to and sharing of genetic resources, and ending government subsidies that harm biodiversity. There are even proposals to place endangered species on the blockchain. Good luck with that. Carbon emission reductions and removals can be—in theory and increasingly in practice —reliably blockchained for credits, but then a CO2 molecule in Beijing is the same as a CO2 molecule in Lima. Calculating biodiversity gains and losses is far more complex. How many mountain gorillas is a Javan rhino worth?

If people don’t recognize their own bias there is no way they can clean or scale their response to it. 

— Alexandra Damsker, crypto advisor to A-list celebrities

Canada’s Environment Minister Stephen Guilbeault said resolving just four of the remaining sticking points would be enough for something Parisian. Last time he checked, there were 1,200 "bracketed" items — spots in the text where the wording isn't settled. 

As indicated in last week’s post, one contentious proposal is 30x30 (putting a third of the planet into nature preserves by 2030) which has majority approval (it was first proposed by the late E.O. Wilson) but there is a bedeviling surfeit of small details. If achieved in isolation, 30x30 would likely just result in more rapid destruction of the remaining, unprotected 70 percent. And what constitutes protection? The Guardian reveals:

In England, for example, the government says it is protecting around 28% of land for nature, but in reality it is closer to 3%, one report found. The EU – which is championing 30x30 – was accused of trying to water down the target by arguing that extractive industries, such as mining and drilling, should be allowed in protected areas, provided they do not negatively affect biodiversity.

Remembering Moon

One proposal that has been kicking around for many years is to have whale zones in the open seas in much the same way we have school zones for cars. Janie Wray, who tracked Moon’s migrations for BC Whales said, “Even if you’re really a focused boat driver, you could accidentally hit a humpback whale because they will just come up in front of your boat. The most important thing to do is everybody needs to slow down, especially in areas where we know there are whales.” Remembering Moon, Wray continued:

Something deep within her drove her to just swim across the ocean, using just her pectoral fins. This migration is part of their culture, their tradition. Moon was probably born in Hawaii. And she just goes back every single year, because that’s what her mother taught her to do. It’s been passed down from mother to calf. That’s likely what drove her to travel all that way with her injury.

In Montreal, underdeveloping countries are asking overdeveloped nations how they can be expected not to chop down their forests and dig up their peatlands just as rich countries did in the past. If you want them to do that, say the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), it will require significant financial incentives (a.k.a. “bribes”).

At this point, if a repeat of Copenhagen is to be avoided, we need Tarzan to lead an elephant charge on the Montreal Underground City Place Québec conference center. Just jailing SBF won’t cut it.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

The Noisy Winter before the Silent Spring

"Biodiversity COP15 runs from December 7 to 19 in Montreal."

We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.”

― Henry Beston, The Outermost House: A Year of Life On The Great Beach of Cape Cod, 1928

During the first year of Covid, I penned an essay for this blog about the unexpected pleasure of having wild dolphins join me on a morning swim. Once all the hotels had closed and tourists had been sent away, there was a kind of liberation of the natural world. I found myself on a spit of barrier island off the Yucatán Peninsula that should have been inhospitable to any without fins or feathers, but instead attracts thousands of migratory humans in season to sun themselves and gawk at flamingos and whale sharks. 

With all that taken away by a virus that attacked the two-legged invaders, a primordial world that had existed for millennia returned.

I came here not as a visitor but to dissolve into as pristine a part of nature as I could, to better cleanse body, mind, and perspective. Sheltering in a one-room palapa with a grass roof I am commonly awakened at night by visitors—mice, raccoons, bats—looking to get out of the rain and share the comfy space I’ve made from coconut wood, zapote and stone. I am afraid I am not very hospitable, rousing myself to chase them out.

But then I notice this phenomenon that doubtless many hunters experience. When I become aware of my prey, even though I have not moved or made a sound, they seem to also become aware of me. They sense my sensing them and pause. If I then move or make a sound they flee.

By what sense, I ask myself, do they sense me sensing them? Is it a sense I also have but suppress, or is it unique to their species?

I have been enjoying the latest book by one of my favorite authors, Ed Yong. He came to my attention with his unerringly accurate and prescient coverage of Covid for The Atlantic. After taking home a Pulitzer for that, he switched to an entirely different subject—how perception works differently for different species.


In An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us, Yong observes that a tick, “questing for mammalian blood, cares about body heat, the touch of hair, and the odor of butyric acid that emanates from skin.” That is the sensory universe that motivates her daily quest for food and reproductive success. “Trees of green, red roses too, skies of blue, and clouds of white—these are not part of its wonderful world,” Yong writes. “The tick doesn’t willfully ignore them. It simply cannot sense them and doesn’t know they exist.”

It is like that for humans, too. We rely on six senses, and occasionally some clever mechanical prosthetic inventions, to perceive the world as we go about our quests for food and reproductive success. We do not know what we do not experience. Other living things may lack our senses of sight, smell and hearing but they perceive through senses we lack—echolocation, ultraviolet or infrared vision, or magnetoreception. Bumblebees read the electrical fields of flowers. The platypus’s bill can sense both pressure and electric fields. Owls have asymmetric ears that pinpoint distant sounds to accuracies of 2 degrees. Horses resolve figures a mile distant. Zebra finches resolve sound in 1-millisecond bytes. The blue-throated hummingbird sings ultrasonic frequencies it cannot hear but the greater wax moth and Philippine tarsier can. Sharks can “smell” blood in passing currents in parts per million. Otters and seals can track the wake left by fishes 200 yards away. Pigeons, Bogong moths, European robins and loggerhead turtles “read” subtle variations in Earth’s magnetic field to navigate over long distances.

There is much left to be learned. The largest whales have a volleyball-sized sensor at the tip of their lower jaw. We only discovered that in 2012 and still do not know what it does. Rattlesnakes can “visualize” the body heat of their prey the way an infrared night scope might, but we don’t know if that is part of their vision or derived from sensors at the tips of their forked tongues. Treehoppers communicate by contracting their abdomens to produce vibrations through the branches on which they stand. Unless we attach a microphone to the branch, we would never know that. We still don’t know why Beaked whales strand en masse after exposure to naval sonar. There are thousands of mysterious communications going on around us—a world filled with conversation—that we are completely oblivious to.

The red lights of telecommunications towers annually kill some 7 million migrating birds that collide into wires or each other because of the light. Subjected to the din of global cargo shipping, humpback whales stop singing, orcas stop foraging, crabs stop feeding, and reef fish become easy prey. Noise causes prairie dogs to spend more time in burrows, owls to misjudge their glide path to prey, and sage grouse to abandon breeding grounds. Bathed in bright lights from parking lots and skyscrapers, flowers receive fewer visits from nocturnal pollinators and produce fewer fruit. Sea turtle hatchlings wander far in the opposite direction from the ocean.

Ninety percent of seabirds and nearly 100 percent of ocean fish contain forever plastics in their guts and tissues. Their olfactory senses masked by pesticides in the water, salmon can no longer detect their streams of birth. Species with slow lives and long generations can’t evolve quickly enough to keep pace with levels of light, noise, salinity and toxic pollution that double every few decades. There are whales alive today who may recall when they could hear songs of their pods at distances ten times the distances they can pick them out today. The din of ships, sonars, and cable buzz obscures. Their world has shrunken in their lifetimes, given up to the bipedal apes who seem now to be everywhere.

Yong gives the example of the Woodhouse’s Scrub-jay in New Mexico that flees from the noise of compressors used to frack methane. The jays spread the seeds of pinyon pines—a single bird can disperse 3000-4000 seeds per year—which are the foundation for a fragile dry ecosystem that provides food and shelter to hundreds of species, including indigenous peoples. The loss of the jay to fracking has meant the loss of three-quarters of these systems, with consequences for centuries.

We cannot hear them hear us. But they hear us not hearing them. 

As we rend the web of life we cut away the branch that we ourselves sit upon. Many of us understand this but feel powerless to change it. Biodiversity COP15 runs from December 7 to 19 in Montreal. Like Climate COP27 in Egypt, this COP is focused on the implementation of an agreement negotiated into international law at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. There were three major works arrived at in Rio: the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD), the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The conferences of the parties (COPs) bring together the national stakeholders to try to advance these goals. It is a slow process—lots of competing interests—and as with the other two treaties, biodiversity losses are proceeding faster than measures to combat it.

All sessions at COP15 will be streamed live at and the main schedule is also available. Just as Loss and Damage was the sticking point for COP27-Sharm El Sheikh, GMOs are the blockade in Montreal’s roadmap. The UN has relabeled them LMOs— Living Modified Organisms. Safe transport, handling and labeling rather than elimination is being discussed. Apart from in the halls and cafes, there will be scant discussion of proposals to rewild a third, half, or two-thirds of the planet in order to save it. 

We could bemoan a lack of progress as we drift towards existential annihilation, the futility of toothless and waste-filled UN gabfests, or human nature, but what is our alternative? We must keep talking. The COPs set decade-by-decade goals in the hope that by 2050, the crisis will be contained and a different future will unfold. If you don’t think that is likely, you are not alone.


Beston, Henry. The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod, 1928. (Holt Paperbacks 2003).

Damasio, Antonio, The quest to understand consciousness, TED 2011, Long Beach, CA (Feb 2011)

Yong, Ed. An immense world: How animal senses reveal the hidden realms around us. National Geographic Books, 2022.


Sunday, December 4, 2022

The Heroic Gene

"We grab the tail of the evolutionary tiger at our peril."

me, the central questions that will have to be confronted — not so much by me as by my children and grandchildren — are whether and how they will escape early death and near-term human extinction from now-irrevocable events set in motion by their grandparents and mine.

Richard Heinberg writes:

My generation basically had all the information it needed. We had books like Silent Spring, Limits to Growth, and Small Is Beautiful. We could have tamped down consumption, but instead, we threw the biggest party in all of human history and we’re leaving the next generations to clean up after us.

How that happened is fairly simple to say. We screwed up. Maybe you could say it was through no fault of our own, although that gets harder to utter the longer we ignore what is happening and continue along with extravagant and heedless lifestyles, willfully ignoring the consequences.

I can modestly say I was a style leader from the day I finished schooling and set out on my Appalachian Trail thru-hike in 1972. From that point to this I’ve lived even more frugally than when I was making wilderness camp every night or before that, when I was hitchhiking around the world as a college student.

Joining The Farm, which we considered a “family monastery” in those days, you took a vow of poverty, was which really a pledge of voluntary simplicity rather than devotional self-flagellation in the sense of a confraternity of zealots. We didn’t march through the streets in mortifying our flesh in all-day processions. We just didn’t use, or need, money.

That quasi-monastic training stood me in good stead when I visited ecovillages in various countries that were even more austere in their choices than we had been at The Farm. What ecovillagers were looking for was not hair shirts, though. We were not flagellants. We wanted a middle path — elegant simplicity. To borrow a phrase from Howard and Elizabeth Odum, we sought a prosperous way down — satyagraha (truth force), ahimsa (harmlessness), and a touch of hippy style, like maybe three-day music and dance festivals. It was heroism tempered with humor; simplicity celebrated.

And to me, that piece is really the key to unlock a better future — exploiting our heroic gene. That gene is why people get all teary-eyed at stories about selfless acts — the fireman who rushes in to pluck a child from the flames; the passengers who rush their hijackers; the off-duty cop who jumps up from her seat in the restaurant and blocks a mass shooting.

In these posts, I have often voiced my concern that homo sapiens’ undoing will be our tribal gene — the one that compels us to bond with others of similar genomic makeup, skin color, homeland, religion, language, or other matters of ephemeral importance, merely to be rewarded with dopamine to the pleasure centers of our brains when we disparage, slander or threaten those of another meaningless distinction — the Chinese, the Jews, the Niggers, the Muslims, the migrants, the gays, the what-have-yous. Like male nipples or an appendix, our genetic vestiges have gone from marginal utility to dangerously counter-survival. And yet we still elevate tribalism, perhaps because it helps motivate our children to succeed in school, to win a place on the ball team, or to gain some advantage in business, mortgage-shopping, or neighborhood security.

Today America First or MAGA yard signs or baseball caps signal the kind of tribe we’d like to be in — the one on top. Perhaps we think that by saying our product was Made in America or has all American parts we will sell more of them. But we grab the tail of that evolutionarily vestigial tiger at our peril. Trading the life of a son or daughter to kick some Afghani or Syrian ass takes that tribal gene WAY too seriously.

Incidentally, I recently learned that it may take several more generations before enough of the Farm’s genetic pool has co-mingled that through olfactory or some other sense we begin regarding each other as related and so become truly supportive of each other, as close kin do. We are in our third or fourth generation in many of our families now, but that may only be a part of the way to where we can call ourselves a sustainable community.

A better way to bend that genetic embed to favor our common future could be to show some loyalty to the planet. That might mean changing your diet. It could mean getting rid of a gas-guzzling car. Maybe you should be shopping more at the thrift store instead of Bergdorf’s. Are you making compost in your kitchen for your home garden? These may not seem like heroic acts, but they should. That common pride we feel when we join together — alone apart together — to consistently live these ways — is precisely our best hope of giving something to our grandchildren that they might actually be able to survive.




The Great Change is published whenever the spirit moves me. Writings on this site are purely the opinion of Albert Bates and are subject to a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike 3.0 "unported" copyright. People are free to share (i.e, to copy, distribute and transmit this work) and to build upon and adapt this work – under the following conditions of attribution, n on-commercial use, and share alike: Attribution (BY): You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work). Non-Commercial (NC): You may not use this work for commercial purposes. Share Alike (SA): If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one. Nothing in this license is intended to reduce, limit, or restrict any rights arising from fair use or other limitations on the exclusive rights of the copyright owner under copyright law or other applicable laws. Therefore, the content of
this publication may be quoted or cited as per fair use rights. Any of the conditions of this license can be waived if you get permission from the copyright holder (i.e., the Author). Where the work or any of its elements is in the public domain under applicable law, that status is in no way affected by the license. For the complete Creative Commons legal code affecting this publication, see here. Writings on this site do not constitute legal or financial advice, and do not reflect the views of any other firm, employer, or organization. Information on this site is not classified and is not otherwise subject to confidentiality or non-disclosure.