West Coast Marine Ecosystem May Be Crashing

Now you see them, now you don't. And when you don't see sardines, the whole web of ocean life falters. (Photo by Juuyoh Tanaka/Flickr)

Now you see them, now you don’t. And when you don’t see sardines, the whole web of ocean life falters. (Photo by Juuyoh Tanaka/Flickr)

This is not a drill. A profound crash in the web of marine life in West Coast waters is under way, and may have gone on for two years already. Current observations that are setting biologists’ hair on fire include:

  • the sardine population from California to Canada is vanishing — the worst crash in generations;
  • starving sea lion and seal pups are washing up on California beaches in unprecedented numbers for the second straight year;
  • brown pelicans in the same area are showing signs of starvation and have not raised any chicks for four years;
  • a massive bloom of toxic algae in Monterey Bay is poisoning sea lions, fish and shellfish, and poses a threat to human health.

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The End of (Environmental) History

Of course it's empty. Forbes says there's nothing more to learn.

Of course it’s empty. Forbes says there’s nothing more to learn.

Forbes Magazine, assisted by the Heritage Foundation, has declared an end to the environmental movement; not for the reason you might expect Forbes to embrace, but because, and I quote, “we are all environmentalists now.” Likewise it has declared an end to worry about the effects of climate change, because, and again I quote, “many people see global warming as a problem for the future, not the present.” (This is optimism of the same stripe as the man who, having fallen 50 floors from the roof of a 60-story skyscraper, says to himself “Well, nothing bad has happened yet.”)

The motivation for this amazing piece of op-ed propaganda is perfectly clear. Forbes exists to pander to gazillionaires who made or inherited their money from enormous industrial enterprises. The Heritage Foundation exists to help ultra-conservatives spray their political emissions with a gloss of academic respectability. As we shall see, the shine does nothing to improve the smell. Continue reading

Peak Medicine. It’s Here, Too

If global warming doesn’t get us, global sickening might; microbes like these are shrugging off modern medicine’s tools to control them. (Photo by Carlos de Paz/Flickr)

If global warming doesn’t get us, global sickening might; microbes like these are shrugging off modern medicine’s tools to control them. (Photo by Carlos de Paz/Flickr)

According to the World Health Organization, the planet is about to enter a post-antibiotic age in which minor infections kill us because the tools of modern medicine, which have been effective for a century and more, no longer work. The organization’s first global survey of drug-resistant disease found that in addition to antibiotic resistance by infectious bacteria — now well established everywhere in the world — resistance by viruses such as HIV, parasites including malaria and fungi is also spreading fast. All in all, says WHO, it is “a major threat to public health” whose “implications will be devastating.”

The report focused on antibiotic resistance among seven bacteria responsible for some of the most common serious infections. Its major findings: Continue reading

Peak Food. It’s Here.

What has long been just a walk in the park for most Americans -- food shopping -- is about to become considerably more grueling. (Photo by Wonderlane/Flickr)

What has long been just a walk in the park for most Americans — food shopping — is about to become considerably more grueling. (Photo by Wonderlane/Flickr)

High food prices — which have been destabilizing (and in some cases, vaporizing) governments around the world — are coming belatedly to America. The prices of beef, pork, shrimp, eggs, dairy products and produce are all reaching record highs right now. Overall food prices are up almost 20% this year. The reasons appear at first glance to be varied, but in almost every case the root cause turns out to be either climate change or the practices of industrial agriculture. Indications are that there is no relief in sight. In fact the days of cheap and plentiful food, like the days of cheap and plentiful oil, may well be over for good. Continue reading

Democratic America is Dead. Say Hello, Oligarchy.

Dollar FlagMany years ago a friend of mine, a long-haul truck driver, was in a terrible accident. He almost died, and when he recovered it was with severe, permanent physical and neurological damage. A year or so after he came home from the hospital his wife told me that she was living with a stranger, whose dark moods, frequent eruptions of anger — even his manner of thinking and speaking — were foreign to her. She still loved him, she supposed, although more and more it seemed to her that she loved the man he had been, not the man he became after the accident. She wondered about her duty to the man he had become.

Many of us feel that way about our country. We loved it once, without reservation. But that was before the accident. Continue reading

States Moving to Penalize Home Solar Installations

Freeloaders live here. According to ALEC, they must be punished. (Photo by John Hritz/Flickr)

Freeloaders live here. According to ALEC, they must be punished. (Photo by John Hritz/Flickr)

Oklahoma’s legislature has now followed Arizona’s  in authorizing a penalty to be charged people who install small solar arrays or wind turbines and connect them to the grid. This is happening as a result of a campaign by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an industry-financed group (backed heavily by the Koch Brothers, among others) that writes and distributes “model” legislation for state governments. This is the equivalent of the crew of the Titanic systematically smashing holes in lifeboats to make sure everybody does their best to save the ship. It is utterly wrong-headed, but its unintended consequences could be quite good. Continue reading

We’re All Being Victimized

At last the camera has found you. You’ve been waiting your whole life and now, because of something that happened to someone else, they want to know what you think. Our best advice: don’t do it. (Photo by Dave Radcliff/Flickr)

At last the camera has found you. You’ve been waiting your whole life and now, because of something that happened to someone else, they want to know what you think. Our best advice: don’t do it. (Photo by Dave Radcliff/Flickr)

At the risk of — no, acknowledging the certainty of — sounding callous, and offending many, may I just say that I am tired of hearing from victims’ families? There is no shortage of life coaches, psychologists and members of other dubious professions to urge us all not to be a victim; why is no one pointing out that being related to someone who becomes famous as a victim is to be avoided at all costs, denied if at all possible, and — all else failing — endured in dignified silence. Being a victim-in-law does not confer special knowledge, rights, or merit. The fact that your uncle was killed by a meteorite does not make you an expert in meteorology (wait, does that track?) nor should it give you standing to sue the Hubble Telescope for failing to warn him in time. Continue reading

China Burning: This is Not a Drill

Chinese residents of Ningbo, breathing through face masks, protest the announced expansion of a petrochemical plant, while in Beijing, shrouded by air pollution, a spectacular stage production praises the country’s progress. (Photo tableau by Tjebbe van Tijen/Flickr)

Chinese residents of Ningbo, breathing through face masks, protest the announced expansion of a petrochemical plant, while in Beijing, shrouded by air pollution, a spectacular stage production praises the country’s progress. (Photo tableau by Tjebbe van Tijen/Flickr)

China has proved to be so much better than us at fouling its own nest that it is winning hands-down the lemming-like race we are having to the edge of the cliff that defines the end of the industrial age. China — Communist! China — has adopted our religion (the absolute love of money) with a zeal that makes the archbishops of Wall Street look like apostates. It has sacrificed to its new found god its air, land, water and now its financial system, at such speed it is beginning to blaze like a rock falling into the atmosphere. As the country singer puts it: “Falling feels like flying — for a little while.”

Imitation may be the sincerest form  of flattery, but can turn out badly when the object of the admiration is suicidal. China adopted all our vices at once — relocation of the rural population to jammed cities, runaway industrial and commercial development, electrification, automobilization, to name a few. And it not take any of our virtues, such as a free press, a vibrant environmental movement, a once-strong regulatory environment. It wanted, and it got, a machine that moved at blinding speed and that had no brakes. There have been casualties. Continue reading

IPCC: Wolf! Wolf! No, Really, Wolf!

The last house on Holland Island in the Chesapeake Bay, possibly one of the first casualties of climate change induced storms and rising seas. Think they had any warning? (Photo by baldeaglebluff/Flickr)

The last house on Holland Island in the Chesapeake Bay, possibly one of the first casualties of climate change induced storms and rising seas. Think they had any warning? (Photo by baldeaglebluff/Flickr)

According to the world’s largest assemblage of climate scientists, the view forward is bleak. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says we should expect:

  • millions of people to be displaced by rising seas and more frequent raging storms;
  • more droughts, and more intense heat waves, in more places;
  • extreme shortages of food, fuel, and medicine around the world.

That’s what the IPCC said in its first report, published in 1990. In reports issued every seven years since, including the one out today, it has said the same things, with increasing urgency and certainty. Continue reading

Critical Acclaim Greets TRIBULATION, a novel of the coming crash

Front CoverCritics across the country are heaping praise on Tribulation: A Novel of the Near Future by Thomas A. Lewis, editor of The Daily Impact and author of the 2009 book Brace for Impact: Surviving the Crash of the Industrial Age. The novel picks up on one of the scenarios of collapse laid out in Brace for Impact, and imagines how it might play out. Kirkus Reviews calls it “A riveting, somewhat terrifying work of political speculative fiction…a thorough takedown of corporate statehood, blind wastefulness and human greed.”

Lewis says he was inspired to write the novel by a TED talk he heard broadcast a few years ago in which a storyteller made the point that humans are not wired to enjoy or retain facts, but they remember as good story forever. He thought it might be useful to array the arguments for impending collapse, as laid out in Brace for Impact, in a story telling how the crash might affect a family, and how they might react to it.

The story begins with Brian Trent calling his retired father, one day in the near future, to say, “We’re going to the Farm,” William reacts with alarm. Because Brian, a top reporter for The Washington Post, is really saying that he believes the country’s economy is about to crash, and he and his family are heading for a sanctuary they’ve prepared in the mountains of West Virginia. William does not believe that America could come apart…until he sees it start to happen, with unbelievable speed, the very next day. Continue reading