When Highways, not Vehicles, Crash and Burn

On a normal night, the Capital Beltway around Washington DC looks like this; it’s going to get worse. (Photo by trekkyandy/Flickr)

On a normal night, the Capital Beltway around Washington DC looks like this; it’s going to get worse. (Photo by trekkyandy/Flickr)

Its merits as a highway aside, the Capital Beltway (the 64-mile-long ring road around Washington, DC) has served this nation well, for more than half a century, as a metaphor. There simply is no better, quicker or less obscene way to describe a political hack than to invoke “inside-the-beltway thinking.” Or to plead for common sense than to suggest someone take a look at things “outside the Beltway.”  Now the Beltway is dying, and in doing so is providing an even better metaphor, for the entire crash of the industrial age. It’s almost as good as the Titanic. Continue reading

“Canaries in Coal Mines” Dying Fast: Evacuation Recommended

Warning: The conditions that killed this (parrot) canary are detrimental to your health, too. (Photo by Secret Tenerife/Flickr)

Warning: The conditions that killed this (parrot) canary are detrimental to your health, too. (Photo by Secret Tenerife/Flickr)

In case you missed the memo: when you are mining coal, and the canary in the cage you brought with you to the work face indicates the presence of deadly methane gas by dying, you are directed to get the hell out of the mine. The canary’s death gives you time to save yourself. Ignoring the canary’s death would be really stupid. Now, consider the number and variety of “canaries” that have been dying in such droves, in the past few weeks, as to command headline treatment here and there:
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Renowned Scientist Says Global Collapse “Likely”

(graph by net_efekt/flickr)

(graph by net_efekt/flickr)

According to a paper appearing in the March Proceedings of the Royal Society, “Now, for the first time, a global collapse [of civilization] appears likely.” The paper makes, in a scholarly, peer-reviewed manner, many of the same points about the existential threats that I made in my book Brace for Impact:Surviving the Crash of the Industrial Age. According to Paul R. Ehrlich’s paper, titled “Can a collapse of global civilization be avoided?” the threats include  toxic pollution, land degradation, scarcity of water and oil, plagues, resource wars (perhaps nuclear), over-consumption, overpopulation and the overarching threat multiplier, climate change.

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1,000 Risk Experts say: Brace for Impact

Superstorms, such as this 2012 typhoon photographed from the International Space Station, are according to risk analysts the new normal.

Superstorms, such as this 2012 typhoon photographed from the International Space Station, are according to risk analysts the new normal.

More than 1,000 experts on risk, consulted by the World Economic Forum for an upcoming annual meeting, agree that a perfect storm of rising risk, primarily driven by global climate change, and declining economic resilience pose mortal threats to governments, businesses and society in the near future. Continue reading

Australia Burning: US Smoldering

Tasmania fire 010413

Fires like this one on the island of Tasmania, the result of an historic heat wave, have been plaguing Australia all summer. Photo credit: Wikipedia

One of our continents is on fire. Australia is in the midst of a heat wave like none it has ever seen. On Monday the average high temperature — the average for the entire country — was 105 degrees Fahrenheit. It was the fifth consecutive day the national average high temperature had exceeded 102. When two young ladies at Oodnadatta, in southern Australia, tried to gas up their car to get the hell out of Dodge, the gasoline coming out of the pump vaporized before it could hit the bottom of the tank. Continue reading

Superstorm Sandy: Tasting Apocalypse Now

Lower Manhattan, lights out (except for that one building) watches Sandy approach and Braces for Impact. photo by Stefan Leijon/Flickr

Sandy has done us a great favor by giving us a preview of our new normal — a future in which storms assume the size of continents, “waterfront home” becomes an oxymoron and life — even the lives of the rich and famous — becomes much more tenuous.

Here’s what should happen now. First, there should be a national day of thanks for the climate scientists who braved our scorn and disbelief to insist we look at the reality and realize that superstorms like Sandy were going to be frequent from now on. Sandy has shown us in terms not up for argument, nor adjustable by one belief system or another, that those men and women of science were not Chicken-Little Climate Hawks,  they were American Eagles, harbingers of a bitter future we are bringing on ourselves. But wait there’s more. Continue reading

18 Wheelers: Endangered Species

The environs of the Great American 18-Wheeler, which is showing signs of going extinct. (Photo by Thomanication/Flickr)

The industrial machine that is America today is not a person (any more than a corporation is), but if it were, we would understand clearly that its vascular system — the mechanical  network that supplies petro-nutrients to all its robot parts, without which it  cannot survive for a minute — consists of highways filled with tractor-trailer rigs. Heads up: the system has severe atherosclerosis. Continue reading

Thunderstorms Threaten WV Famine

A vicious squall line moves across the northeastern US on Friday, June 29. (Photo by NASA/Goddard)

The third horseman of the Apocalypse — Famine — is abroad in West Virginia today, the day after Independence Day 2012, because of a thunderstorm. In a stunning development illustrating the fragility of the industrial food chain, people in many of West Virginia’s counties began experiencing hunger three days after the storm knocked out power in their area. Continue reading

Apocalypse Any Minute: The Sun Storm Scenario

A solar flare recorded Dec. 5, 2006, by the X-ray Imager onboard NOAA's GOES-13 satellite. The flare was so intense, it actually damaged the instrument that took the picture.

Add to the list of mortal threats to the continued existence of the industrial age another inevitable, natural event to which we have exposed the throat of our machine. You may know about the threat of solar storms — I wrote about it here in January of 2011 (“A Solar Powered Blackout”) — but did you know that one of the consequences of a strong one will be the moral equivalent of a nuclear war — a kind of Chernobyl times 100? Continue reading

Experts Shout “Fire!” in Crowded Planet. Crowd Ignores Them

Some experts believe, although not without contradiction from other experts, that increased temperatures in the place where we live may be a cause for some level of concern. (Photo by Ada Be/Flickr)

A conference in London this past weekend on climate and health concluded that the “alarming speed” of the depletion of natural resources around the world, now being accelerated by climate change, poses “an immediate, growing and grave threat” to health and security everywhere. The medical, academic and military experts predicted imminent increases in hunger, conflict, social unrest and species extinction worldwide. Continue reading