Today I stepped over the line by suggesting that wealth redistribution on a global scale would be necessary to cope with Climate Destabilization.


Complex Systems

I was trying to convince a guy to look at the twin threats of rising inequality to civilization

[NASA Study Concludes When Civilization Will End, And It's Not Looki...]

and Climate Destabilization

[Climate change is putting world at risk of irreversible changes, sc...]

as symptoms of an emergent complex system.

Just as flock behavior emerges from individual birds optimizing their personal space, complex behaviors can emerge from interacting components in human society. There's no need for intention, or conspiracy, to explain an emergent complex system. No individual has to want civilization to collapse or the planet to become uninhabitable. Many institutions and individuals, each maximizing their personal wealth and power, can form an emergent complex system that simply has that collective result.

In particular I see it as the kind of complex system where it's hard to control individual parts of the system in isolation.

Interconnected elite power operates through so many channels, that it easily compensates for an activist push in pollution control, global justice, sustainability, population control, political reform, corporate reform, or finance reform. Worthy reform efforts compete, isolated. Meanwhile the 1% "own" the corporations, politics, finance, the courts, and mass media as an interlaced network. This power imbalance is a manifestation of the inequality threatening civilization.

Most activist organizations survive within this structure, including most environment groups. They dare not advocate, nor discuss, replacing the economic and political status quo.


Time is short. The Arctic is no longer isolated from lower latitudes by a stable Jet Stream. As the Polar Vortex brings unusual cold weather to the US, excess heat invades Siberia and the Arctic Ocean. Sea ice melt has accelerated, methane release has accelerated, and a sudden large methane release has just become more likely. A one gigaton release would decay rapidly, like this.

image source

However, while it's in the air it dramatically raises local greenhouse warming. This raises the probability of a second large release from increased heating of the most vulnerable locations. Which raises the likelihood of a third such release, etc. Which might look like this.

image source

This isn't the only positive feedback that would feel excess local heat. Permafrost on adjacent lands would melt faster, wetlands would release more methane when they warm, and forest fires would become more likely.

The IPCC is a conservative group. They refuse to include data on positive feedbacks like these because they aren't quantified well enough to make precise predictions. We can't know exactly how soon methane will release in Gigaton quantities, or when a first large release will trigger a second, until after it's happened. If they can't measure a process, they just leave it out of their projections.

The 5 Gigatons of Methane currently in the atmosphere is responsible for half of the greenhouse warming we already have. Dr Natalia Shakhova suggests that as much as 5 Gigatons could be suddenly released. Even the IPCC estimates that a sudden methane release could make a 2°C rise happen 15 to 35 years sooner.

We live on a fragile planet now, trembling on the verge of  an irreversible sudden change that would render us powerless. Once Arctic methane starts pumping out faster, our CO2 footprint will be swamped.


How Could We Change Fast Enough?

How can we continue to work within, think within, this death dealing interconnected economic/political/financial/fossil-fuel-based system? Why not at least talk about how to modify it?

Wealth redistribution could support population control, for example by providing a modest retirement stipend to childless couples in developing countries. It could finance solar power worldwide, including poor countries. Wealth was confiscated in the Russian and Chinese Communist Revolutions. Wouldn't Climate Chaos be a greater moral justification? What counts as a reasonable response when your planet's turning against you?

The conversation ended awkwardly. The other guy agreed easily that humanity is at risk. His voice tone suggested that confiscating hoarded wealth from tax sheltered off shore accounts was lunatic. It was as if I'd asked him to consider treason. Take from the rich to give to the poor on that scale, just for humanity to survive? Unthinkable!

[Correction April 7th, 2014]

David Archer at RealClimate (in reply to a comment #6) claims that

... the mixing time for the atmosphere is short, about a year for exchange between the hemispheres and much shorter for mixing along latitude circles, shorter than the thermal equilibration time from rising greenhouse gases. So in general the Earth warms and cools as a whole from GHG concentrations.

So perhaps local warming accelerating more local warming isn't as much a danger as I thought.

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Replies to This Discussion

I just opened this and I am having difficulty with fatigue. So, I will read and respond tomorrow morning. It looks really good, and I am going to ask you for permission to Twitter it and how you want me to do it, i.e. 

1. Twitter from this site? 

2. Copy and paste and then Twitter with attribution to you? 

3. Copy and paste and Twitter without attribution to you? 

4. ???

I have to say hello and that I am uneased by your having fatigue. You are the compassion and conscience of wisdom when wisdom is spared narcissism. Ruth is too, one of my teachers.

Jon, what a lovely thing to say, I feel ... I can't find a word to fit how powerfully your comment affects me. As to the fatigue, that is no big deal. After all, I am 78 years old, had somewhat of a challenging life journey and always full of questions. If that is wisdom, then I was born with it and can make no claim of being responsible for it. It is just who I am. 

Frankly, it is because of my challenges that I think at a different level than I would have if I had not had them. Family violence; living with no income and few prospects; having three children to raise to be adults and not perpetual children; surviving cancer with the help of a remarkable family team and medical team and virtual atheist team; having a son who suffered from alcoholism and living to see his recovery; learning there is no god and finding a community of non-believers who are bright, articulate, compassionate, and not afraid to offend those who propagate nonsense; and especially being confronted when my deluded thinking resurfaces.

To be included with Ruth in your comment is a great compliment.  

On the mention of deluded thinking, guilty here too, I think at times it is a means of softening the course reality we endure, like a glass of whine. The real test is to not become so intoxicated with it that we lose sight of truth in a way that increases the harm done to others and ourselves. This is the case with the bobble-heads filling church pews and giving nodes to climate-denial as they sit willing to create an end-of-the-world self-fulfilling prophesy to justify their internalized vitriolic hatred for those that their cult-faith deem as outsiders. Conversely, it could just be as simple as a very nice person being guided to do so to stay with the mutual support of the chosen delusion. These are the ones who are drank and became drunks that now themselves poison the social-moral landscape of our maturing civilization. So having that glass of whine, finding hope, and giving comfort without becoming toxic ourselves or poisoning another may be necessary to increase or chances of survival. Delusions like trust, hope, determination, love, meaning, purpose, and sharing, are not harmful in finding a common cause to improve our survivability chances let alone our enjoyability chances. We can expand our identity to include and even embrace others to be as significant as ourselves, and to the point where we recognize the whole is the true being of who we are as a member of nature, society, family, humanity. All can be very healthy delusions that we can make a reality by being and becoming the choices we make. It exits in our being and as making ourselves and our experiences the knowledge we gift to another...This is the life one adds to a reality that is measurable in consumption and entropy. The gifts are immeasurable.

Thanks for your validation, and your concern for Joan, Jon T.

Thank you for the knowledge and reasoning that is seasoned with mutual concern for your fellow human-beings.

I didn't even know one could send a twitter from AN.

Or do you mean linking to this discussion from your tweet?

I don't think you need attribution, if you link to the discussion. That's obvious once you're here.

I'm not sure what you mean for #3, since twitter allows so few characters. Paste to where?

Ruth, I am now concerned that my Tweeting from AN to Twitter is exposing members to public exposure. My strategy was to copy Discussions and Comments from other people, after I received permission, paste it on my AN Discussion, Politics, Economics and Religion, and then just linking them.

Checking back to AN to see if my strategy works, I found the string was available, including other AN members. Therefore, I stopped using that strategy. 

I now copy and past other's comments, with their permission and how they want me to attribute it. I want to share the fine writing of AN members to the general public. That way, privacy is maintained.

I am very sorry if my strategy caused anyone harm.

I will return with the answer to your question about #3 after I check my comment.  

Thanks, Ruth, for all your support in my effort to bring understanding to others, especially about the family violence issue. You have provided me excellent guidance over the years. 

I deleted #1, #2, and #3 because they do not do what I intended.

Because I can't copy a full comment to Twitter, perhaps there is another option of which I am unaware. 

If anyone knows a procedure to prepare a page for Twitter that Twitter will accept, please let me know. There is some fine writing on AN and I want my family, friends and Twitter and Facebook followers to read. 

...confiscating hoarded wealth...

Whoever dies with the most toys... still dead.

LOL. Interesting visual, Grinning Cat.

That's a good one grinning cat.. And dead is still going to be dead. Toys or not.



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