Letters to Readers
Where to Get It
Youth Futures: 2012 and Beyond
Starting in 2012, this space will present updates to the book Standing on Your Own Two Feet: Young Adults Surviving 2012 and Beyond, which is a free book for all young adults. Short corrections will be incorporated into the book as soon as possible, but most additions and supplements will be found only here.
America's lifestyle expectations are far too high and need to be adjusted so we have less things and a smaller, better existence. We need to reinvent our whole system of life.
31 December 2019: The 2020s
It's the time of year when many people, in many different subjects, are making predictions about the upcoming year. Some of those are based on careful analysis, even computer simulation. Others are educated guesses based on long experience. Some are looking into crystal balls or reading tea leaves.
I am joining them this year, but with a few major differences. Instead of looking at 2020, I will make my predictions about the entire decade that is about to start, 2020-2029. Also, I will be very clear about what, in my opinion, is "baked in" (nearly certain), and what is just "possible."
It has taken me many years to sift through all the relevant information and finally feel comfortable doing this. It has taken me most of the decade that is ending to figure out what is baked in for the 2020s, and what isn't.
There are certainly many things that COULD happen in the 2020s, but none are for sure.
We could have a war with Russia and China, probably nuclear, possibly making a large part of the Earth uninhabitable ... or we might not. The stock market and the rest of the financial system could come crashing down, bringing the commercial and political systems down with it ... or it might not. A disease could get loose that was deadly to people and easily transmitted, causing most people to die ... or it might not.
That stuff, and many other possibilities, are NOT baked in. They are, or are not, triggered by the decisions of individuals or groups, or are based on random events that might or might not happen. I think some of them have a good chance of happening, but I can't be sure.
But something IS baked in.
For almost 300 years, people have been burning wood, coal, oil, and natural gas in huge amounts (compared to earlier times), and all that burning has put massive amounts of "greenhouse gasses" (gasses that trap the sun's heat) into the air. In the unit we use to measure the most common one, Carbon Dioxide, it has gone from 280 to 412 in those 300 years. It will stay in the air for hundreds of years. We have no practical way to get it back out. Trees can get it out, but they do it very slowly, and we prefer to cut them down for lumber.
There are many powerful people trying to keep us from knowing about this. They make money by selling wood, coal, oil, and natural gas, or enjoy other benefits of our industrial civilization, or just want things to stay the same.
Our industrial civilization might bring a better life to more people if it could go on, but it can't. That's not what is waiting for us in the 2020s. Instead, here's what those greenhouse gasses have baked into our future:
The Earth is heating up and the floating Arctic sea ice is melting. The average trend line tells us the ice will be gone by about 2034. But also, that trend has regular ups and downs with the seasons, so it will probably be gone somewhere between 2021 and 2025. Then it's Deep Doo-doo.
When the Arctic sea ice is gone, something very strange will happen. Up until then, the energy from the sun melts some of the ice each summer, but enough ice remains to keep the water very cold. After the ice is gone, the water will get very warm very quickly during the summer, and that heat will keep ice from forming the next winter, except maybe a thin film that will quickly vanish in the spring.
When the waters of the Arctic Ocean start getting warm, the weather in the northern half of the world will go completely crazy. The same is happening in the southern half, just a little slower. Crazy weather all the time will make large-scale commercial agriculture impossible. That means most of our food supply will disappear, and that means many, many people will die. Wars, pandemic diseases, and other not-baked-in things will probably help bring the population into balance with the shrinking food supply.
By the mid-2020s, if not sooner, civilization will be falling apart. Financial ... commercial ... political ... social ... one by one the layers of our civilization will collapse. People will look for someone to blame. Wars (especially nuclear) will let countries express their frustrations, and keep the people distracted, but won't help with the problem.
Will any place on Earth be safe from all this? That's a very good question. In general, the North will probably remain livable for a while (Alaska, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia). I didn't say life would be easy there, because much of the North is still wilderness.
There will probably be lots of little hidden places all over the world where small groups of strong, smart people will survive. How? By letting go of the goodies of our global industrial civilization (groceries, cars, airplanes, electricity, the internet) and by learning to grow or raise their own food, make their own medicine, and take care of themselves in many other ways.
In my little corner of the planet (the forests around Mt. Saint Helens) a few family members and a few other strong, bright young people will do our best to survive and find what happiness we can in a rapidly changing world. The garden will become the focus of our lives, along with fish in the river and animals in the woods. Blackberries in the summer will be a treat, and our big collection of books and board games will be our entertainment.
A few thoughts about the 2030s and beyond:
The heating up of the Earth will continue. The greenhouse gasses we put into the air today won't even START heating the Earth for another 10 years or more. And as soon as ANYTHING causes our industrial civilization to slow down, the loss of all that pollution will cause an additional (and sudden) RISE in global temperatures because that pollution reflects some of the sun's heat away.
The warmer Arctic Ocean will also cause Methane Hydrates on the ocean floor to turn to gas and bubble up, adding more powerful greenhouses gasses to the air, causing more heating.
After the floating sea ice melts, the land ice on Greenland and Antarctica will start melting. We don't know how long this will take. Greenland will add 10-20 feet to sea level, and Antarctica about 250 feet.
Many other animals and many plants are quickly going extinct, and this will happen faster and faster as the Earth gets hotter. At some point too many will be lost, and the ecosystems we need will collapse completely.
For those who would like to see some data, below is the Arctic Sea Ice Volume Anomaly and Trend from the University of Washington Polar Science Center. I have added a red line at 1000 cubic kilometers, which is considered by scientists to be effectively ice-free, as that much ice just hides in little nooks and crannies around the edges of the Arctic Ocean.
The science is in: either we go cold turkey on our coal, oil, and gas addictions, or we risk raising the planet's temperature to a level incompatible with the continued existence of civilization.
29 March 2019: Update after a long absence
It has been a long year, and more, since I wrote in this space. I apologize. I needed to get my life in shape and do some serious preparing for situations that are now visible on the horizon. More and more scientists and psychologists are realizing that Dr. Guy McPherson is absolutely correct when he explains that the reign of the human race on planet Earth is coming to an end. The climate is being disrupted by our greenhouse gasses, the icecaps are melting, ecosystems are rapidly collapsing, and the human race has no intention of doing anything meaningful about it. An excellent overview of the situation was recently penned by Catherine Ingram with many psychological and sociological insights.
If the human race is indeed facing near-term extinction, many people ask, "Why prepare? Why not just party until the end?"
For some people, partying may be enough to give their lives pleasure and meaning. Personally, I need a little more. I have realized that even in the face of extinction, the spiritual processes of (1) witnessing, and (2) pursueing all possible growth, education, and training (both of which I develop well in the NEBADOR novels) are still relevant. Both are on the personal level, and so do not require any other people (who might all be busy with their own situations). Neither require any of our vulnerable technological systems (paper and pencils still work).
For whatever length of time I can be a witness to the process of near-term human extinction, and however much I can learn from it, I will not be alone. Others are starting to notice that something is wrong in the world, and they are smart enough to realize it has nothing to do with distractions like "making the world safe for democracy" or "gender identity politics." I know some of the names of the people who will be with me at the end, as they are already helping me cut wood, dig in the dirt, and the many other things that need doing at this time. A few of the people who will share those final years, or maybe just months, are still unknown to me. I'm sure I will recognize them at the proper time.
If you were on the train to Auschwitz, you'd consider a trainwreck ... a Miracle.
5 February 2018: The Fragile Generation
The title is from an excellent new article by Lenore Skenazy and Jonathan Haidt, which I highly recommend, that gives a good overview of how paranoid parenting and the resulting public policy are making our youth "too safe to succeed."
I agree with the authors completely, and would like to take the idea a step further and explore how these fragile youth might fare in a disaster or collapse situation. In a moment, I will brainstorm some of the effects on youth of this situation, but I first want to point out that paranoid parenting appears to me to be a completely natural reaction to the affluence the upper classes, and in wealthier nations the middle classes, have obtained in recent decades. It may even be so natural that any creature would over-protect its offspring if it could. In most cases, the environment does not allow it.
I will skip the use of qualifiers like "usually" and "rarely." There are always exceptions, but alas, way too few.
Physically, over-protected youth are soft. They have never had to exert themselves, push their limits, go an extra mile when they are already exhausted. They have no scars, have never broken any bones, and have otherwise never "bumped into" the world. They have never been so tired that they would fall asleep while still walking. They have felt little pain, and certainly no deep, excruciating pain. They are often obeise, which (except in rare cases) is a direct result of an easy life. They have never had a brush with Death, and becuase of this, they have little appreciation and respect for their bodies, and therefore little respect for the bodies of others.
Emotionally, they are still infants, partly because of the lack of physical challanges mentioned above. They have never experienced the difference between a baby crying to get parental attention, and tears that burst forth unbidden in deep grief or excruciating pain. They have no resillience to the fact that the world will ALWAYS contain people ready to put them down, tear them down, take everything they have, and if possible, kill them, and so they are unprepared to recognize when it is time for happiness and joy. Without coming to terms with the common situation of "dog eat dog," they can never be ready for the higher value of "live and let live."
Intellectually, in keeping with the overall motivation of paranoid parenting, over-protected youth have never been asked to learn anything "hard." It is common for them to be unable to speak their native language well, even in situations where it is profitable for them to do so, and they do not gain fluency in a foreign language, so gain little insight into how languages work. Consistent with our anti-intellectual culture, even the basics of mathematics, logic, and science remain unlearned. The educational system doesn't mind, as it's fully controlled by the paranoid parents, so the ill-prepared youth "graduate." Then everyone wonders why "graduating" no longer correlates with success in life.
Spiritually, over-protected youth have no comprehension of the real universe, no sense of larger purpose, and no thoughts about ultimate values. Their personal "universe" is completely man-made: a house and parents, a government-run school, sometimes a corporate-run church with little to say on spiritual matters, Walmart, and their mobile phone. Their course through life is completely scripted: high school, college, job, marriage, retirement. They wouldn't recognize a spiritual calling or an important destiny if one bit them on the nose.
So, how will they fare in a disaster or collapse situation?
Probably the most dangerous aspect of our current generation of fragile, over-protected youth is that they have never stepped, or in most cases even looked, outside their current cultural situation. In a disaster or collapse, society stops working. The parents did what they were told by NOT preparing for bad times. Although schools and churches once did, today they cannot imagine functioning without their complex governmental, corporate, and physical systems up and running.
During our century of affluence, we could have been teaching our youth to "stand on their own two feet" in any situation where the systems around them quit functioning. We could have taught them to be comfortable in nature, self-reliant, confident, skillful, healthy, and wise. Instead, we chose to push them as far as possible in the opposite directions. The decision to keep them "safe" at all costs, made by parents all during the late 20th and early 21st centuries, will go further toward dooming our species to extinction than any war, disease, or climate change ever could.
Be the change that you wish to see in the world.
14 November 2017: World Scientists' Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice
In 1992, the Union of Concerned Scientists wrote a letter warning the world that we were on a collision course with Nature.
That letter has now been updated, 25 years later. In most ways, we are rapidly failing and losing ground. That new letter was signed by 15,364 scientists from 184 countries. It includes 9 graphs that tell the story very clearly for the period 1960 to 2016.
"To prevent widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss, humanity must practice a more environmentally sustainable alternative to business as usual. This prescription was well articulated by the world's leading scientists 25 years ago, but in most respects, we have not heeded their warning. Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out. We must recognize, in our day-to-day lives and in our governing institutions, that Earth with all its life is our only home."
Just to echo the essential conclusion of the letter: "Soon it will be too late ..."
The monopolising of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth. Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness.
14 July 2017: The Winner!
As readers of the Nebador series already know, I love to point out ways in which we humans are not as great as we like to think.
The Gods or Mother Nature (whichever you prefer) has already created a creature that is as adaptable as we can imagine, able to survive ANY environment on Earth, AND outer space, as long as the sun is still shining. They are about 1.5mm long when fully grown, and go by the name Tardigrada, or "slow walker." They have also been called "little water bears," "space bears," and "moss piglets."
Best of all, they mind their own business, only eating plants, bacteria, and other Tardigrada.
Theories of how to manipulate society have brought us to the brink of disaster.
11 June 2017: The Short Fuse?
Last year, the floating Arctic icecap began some very strange behavior. It started in the spring, but was interrupted by a cool, cloudy summer. As one scientist put it, "The Arctic just dodged a bullet." By fall, the strangeness was back, with both area and volume far below anything we had ever before seen at that time of year. Very similar events were taking place in the seas around Antarctica.
Now, as the Arctic enters another summer melting season, it is poised to do something that ranges from impressive to catastrophic. Breaking it down into 4 possibilities, 2 probable and 1 improbable on each end:
1. Improbable: The Arctic has an extremely cold summer, which is almost impossible given current air and water temperatures. But if that happened, the ice volume would merely tie with the previous record low, set in September 2012, of about 3700 cubic kilometers (km3).
2. Probable on the high side: The Arctic icecap will set an impressive new record low volume in September 2017 of 3000 km3 or less.
3. Probable on the low side: All of the thin (first-year) ice in the Arctic will completely melt, leaving only the blob of multi-year ice that is sitting north of Greenland right now. This would result in a catastrophic new record low of something like 1000 km3.
4. Improbable (I hope): The blob melts too. The only remaining ice would be little piles in the nooks and crevices of northern Canada and Greenland, bringing the total volume to nearly zero.
Now for the big question, the question about this situation being a "short fuse" or not.
Will the open blue water in the Arctic, during the remainder of this summer, be great enough in area to soak up enough energy from the sun to raise the water temperature enough to sublimate the Methane hydrates on the Arctic Ocean floor?
If I had to guess, I would place this event between numbers 2 and 3 of the possibilities listed above. In other words, there is a good change it could happen this year. I could be wrong. It could happen between numbers 1 and 2, meaning that it would almost definitely happen this year.
This would light the fuse as early as this summer.
Sublimation is when a solid changes directly into a gas, without going through a liquid phase. This would probably happen most quickly in the shallow Arctic seas north of Europe and Asia. Methane hydrates are a compound of Methane ("natural gas") that is stable at very low temperatures, but changes back into gaseous Methane when the temperature gets too high. Methane is about a hundred times as powerful as Carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.
Methane hydrates on the Arctic Ocean floor started sublimating slowly in about 2007. Scientists who study this process believe there will come a point in the rising temperature of the Arctic Ocean when at least 50 billion metric tons (Gt) of Methane will be suddenly released. That's about 10 times as much Methane as is already in the atmosphere.
It is not easy to calculate what effect a 50 Gt Methane release would have on global temperatures. I have found estimates by scientists of 1.1°C and 1.3°C. This is in addition to the 1.0-1.5°C (depending on when you start counting) of global warming that has already taken place.
The fuse is burning, and it's only late 2017, maybe early 2018.
The next part of the "fuse" is probably the most critical, as it will mean the difference between all this being merely interesting, and it being catastrophic for humans.
Can our complex, mechanized, chemical-fertilized agricultural systems still function well with a sudden global temperature rise of 1.1-1.3°C?
The answer, according to the few scientists who dare to ask this question, is "probably not." This opinion cannot be proven or disproven. It has never happened before, and is difficult to model. Our agricultural systems were developed when the global temperature ranged from about 13°C to about 14°C. It is now 14.7°C, and would be 15.8-16.0°C after the 50 Gt Methane release. We'll just have to wait and see what is on the grocery shelves, and at what price, after this happens.
The fuse keeps burning. It's 2018, maybe 2019.
A collapse of our agricultural systems would immediately result in the collapse of our financial and commercial systems. This would cause most factories and other sources of pollution to shut down. Those factories are currently helping to cool the Earth with their pollution. Scientists estimate that if our factories shut down, the Earth would experience a rapid 2.5-3.0°C increase of global heat.
That brings us to somewhere between 18°C and 19°C. Other climate mechanisms and feedbacks would be pushing the global temperature even higher, possibly into the neighborhood of 23°C. This is called "run-away climate change."
Somewhere in this process, Greenland and Antarctica will give up their ice, raising the seas up to 260 feet.
We do not know exactly when in this process human civilization will fail. Political collapse will result in fragmentation, social collapse will bring isolation. Small, flexible groups will certainly last longer.
I have hinted at a very rapid timetable for this process, as that now looks possible, perhaps even probable. It could also happen more slowly. Even if all this took a hundred years, that would still be amazingly fast as planetary changes go.
What will you be doing while the "fuse" is burning?
There are none so Blind as those who will not See.
16 May 2017: Our Giant Canoe
This excellent analogy is part of a recent article by Chris Martenson.
Think of our situation as if humanity were all together in a giant canoe and nearly everybody is paddling as hard as they can. After all, we're trying to get somewhere: to improve ourselves, to grow our economy and increase our prosperity. There are goals to be met!
Along the way we've convinced ourselves that this canoe is the best one ever built and it cannot fail us. It is the very pinnacle of achievement. It looks great, and there are creature comforts and pleasant distractions galore. Food has never been more abundant or easier to obtain, new gadgets keep showing up, and (in theory, at least) you can determine for yourself where you want to sit in the canoe.
The people in the front love being there, as they feel powerful and in control. Ironically, though, it's the few people in the stern who are actually secretly and rather effortlessly steering, but nobody in the rest of the canoe seems to notice or care.
There's only one thing wrong with this canoe. It's headed for a gigantic waterfall, and if it tips over the lip, very few will survive. It will be like going over Niagara Falls without a barrel.
A few in the canoe have woken up and noticed this. But their protests are limited to either pulling their paddles out of the water and refusing to propel the canoe any faster, or even trying to futilely paddle backwards against the rest of humanity's combined efforts.
Neither approach is a solution, mind you. But at least for these 'awake' souls, it feels better than paddling mindlessly towards the roaring falls.
As it stand today, humanity's canoe is destined to speed right over the edge. Unless we consciously do something about it. Which we could, if we really wanted to.
As there's nothing preventing us from steering the canoe safely to land, I find this one of the most interesting and fascinating times to be alive. We are currently playing the role of our own destroyer, but the savior role is still there for the choosing.
But what stops us? What keeps us paddling furiously ahead even as the sound of the roaring falls gets louder and louder? The answer is at once both very simple and devilishly hard.
It's our egos.
To save ourselves from ourselves, we have to begin doing things very, very differently. Truthfully, the only way we can save ourselves is to shift our consciousness.
JZC: As best I can tell, shifts in consciousness, although never easy, are most possible for individuals, and very difficult, verging on impossible, for groups of any size.
If you can't explain something in one simple sentence, it's a bad idea.
5 April 2017: Our psychological need for World War III
All creatures are able to sense when something is seriously wrong with their environments. I am referring to environmental problems that are broad in space and/or deep in time, not those that can be dealt with by a short journey or a brief period of hunkering down, which happen to all creatures all the time.
This awareness probably works on the purely instinctual, unconscious level for all plants and most animals.
The responses to threats to the environment vary greatly from creature to creature. Plants can't migrate to a different environment, but they can speed up or slow down metabolic and maturational processes, and sometimes engage reproductive steps at an abnormal time.
Animals have many more options, including migration, hibernation, and environmental modification through various kinds of home building. One extreme measure that animal species sometimes use is mass suicide, seemingly prompted by an unconscious awareness that a few individuals will have a better chance of surviving if there is less competition for resources.
Although I stay as far away from politics as I can, I can't help being amazed at the pro-war rhetoric that is currently running wild. I tend to look for a psychological explanation.
Over the last half century, the awareness has crept into just about every human mind on the planet that there is some kind of problem with the environment. For about half, maybe 2/3 of that time, that awareness has focused on a series of isolated problems: an over-fished lake here, a polluted river there, dirty air over that city, etc.
More recently, an over-all theme has emerged: Climate Change, a.k.a. Global Warming. Our environmental "problem" is no longer about little, isolated, unconnected issues. The word "global" tells us all we need to know about the breadth of it. The term "climate change" implies its depth in time -- most of us intuitively know that a "climate" is huge, and just doesn't change very quickly, and when it does, doesn't cease changing easily. "Warming" give us the direction, without any hint of it being a two-way trip.
So the awareness of a major problem with our environment is there, consciously in some people, intuitively in many more. What is our collective human response?
Publicly, most of us love life, especially people. We negotiate for diplomatic solutions to political problems. We pour money into the medical profession to cure diseases, fix injuries, and extend life. We don't like abortions, even though we balance that feeling with our love of freedom.
Privately, we are drawn to conflict, war, blood, and gore. Conflict, in some form, is an essential part of any fictional story, and no novel gets published, or made into a movie, without plenty of it. The more conflict and gore, the more copies or tickets sold.
But now we are face to face with Climate Change and a possible bottleneck through which our huge global population (7+ billion) may not be able to pass. We are also aware that little wars, like Vietnam and Iraq, don't affect our global population very much. Terrorist actions affect it even less. What can we do?
If we were actually conscious of being in this situation, and KNEW we had to reduce our population quickly (or Climate Change would do it for us), the most efficient thing we could do, to accomplish the necessary reduction, would be to pick a fight with the other nation that has about as many nuclear weapons as we do. We could start blaming EVERYTHING on that nation. We could demonize its leaders. We could carefully tailor the news so that everything the other country does is evil, and everything we do is great (even when it's exactly the same).
Official studies estimate that the electro-magnetic pulses that nuclear weapons cause, even without any bomb or fallout damage, would bring about a 90% reduction in population in the developed world. It would be messy, and take about a year, as the real causes of death would be starvation and disease.
If we prefer a quicker, cleaner, deeper solution, and add actual bomb damage to our cities, and radioactive fallout over large areas, we can bring the total fatalities up to 99%, 99.9%, 99.99%, or whatever seems best.
Of course, no one will admit to consciously thinking these thoughts and making these plans. But I just can't think of any other reason for the mounting pro-war rhetoric we see and hear constantly these days. Whether it's conscious or unconscious makes no difference -- the result is the same.
You have to decide whether to look like an idiot before the crash or an idiot after it.
14 March 2017: Shades of Swans
In recent years, as predicting the future course of our human civilzation has become more and more important, the colors of swans have become a way of expressing some things about those predictions. This happened because of a funny story: It was long believed that all swans were white. Then someone discovered a few black swans in Australia. Suddenly, all sayings about swan colors had to be re-thought and re-worded.
White swans are very common. They are the normal, expected color for swans. White Swan Events are those we can easily predict, and we are usually right. The sun will come up tomorrow. Taxes have to be paid. Politicians lie.
Black swans are very rare, and in most places, non-existent. According to Nassim Taleb, the first person to use the term in a published book, Black Swan Events are those events that (1) are unpredictable, (2) have a large impact, and (3) after they happen, we act like we could have predicted it all along (to "save face").
Although it's probably true most of the time, I'm not sure number (3) is a necessary part of the definition.
Some examples of Black Swan Events are earthquakes, asteroid strikes, volcanic eruptions, political assinations, and some scientific discoveries. Some of these can be seen coming shortly before they arrive, but are usually completely hidden from us until they are very close.
People who try to peer into the future also recognize that there are Gray Swan Events, not completely predictable, and not completely unexpected. In recent decades, it seems to me, more and more things have been falling into this category. Triggers that used to faithfully predict certain future events, now often pass by without anything happening. But also there are new triggers that are causing ripples into the future, triggers that would have caused us to merely yawn not long ago.
At this time, the slow, steady march of Climate Change has become THE White Swan Event. Although many details about it are still unknown to us, it has become THE reliable, unavoidable fact of the 21st century.
Although little wars are almost always going on, World War 3 is some shade of a Gray Swan Event. Some of the things that triggered past wars, even world wars, have come and gone without effect. New possible world-war triggers are everywhere. As I write this, I can count 9 places in the world where World War 3 might start.
Financial Collapse, leading quickly to Commercial Collapse, is also some shade of Gray. It is known from history that great debt leads to collapse. We keep piling up more debt, and nothing happens. Yet.
Pandemic Plague is another Gray Swan Event. We know we have a highly-mobile civilization that can spread any disease to the entire world very quickly. The right germ just hasn't come along, with just the right qualities, to take advantage of that situation. Yet.
The usual Black Swan Events are still possible, of course. Coronal Mass Ejection. Asteroid or comet. You know the list.
Keep your eyes open for swans of all shades!
... when it changes it does so quickly, and the impossible becomes the inevitable without ever having been probable.
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