Playing Cassandra

I’m feeling distinctly pessimistic today. As I’ve written in the past, the notion that “The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice” may be a necessary belief to remain motivated in generations-long battles for justice, but as an “is” statement (as opposed to an “ought” statement), it is naive at best in light of the cyclical nature of civilizations. All civilizations in the history of humankind have, sooner or later, declined and fallen into a “dark age”.

And with that cheery introduction, I’ll give you the following:
1)Rachel Maddow analyzing the effects of money on US politics. Basically, Republicans and corporations now have enough money at their disposal to win even extremely unlikely electoral races. And the Democrats’ plan to survive and counter this? winning, then amending the constitution. except that, as just noted, they can’t really win anymore. So basically, unless the Repubicans actually manage to self-destruct, the US government is now wholly theirs, on all levels, for years to come.

2)A graph and summary about oil prices since the economic crisis. oil prices are currently falling because of assorted political clusterfucks, but for the last year, despite fluctuations, they are as high as they were at the beginning of 2008. and anything “good” happening economically will instantly reverse the current downward trend. so, it seems our choices right now are economic collapse somewhere important and the continuation of the Era Of Cheap Oil, or economic stabilization/recovery and the official end of oil below $100/bbl. Peak Oil, anyone?

3)In Europe, xenophobia always lurks just under the surface, threatening to erupt. The EU and its predecessor were created to end a history of conflict that includes the Hundred Year War, the 30 Year War, and that started both world wars. And they were doing a decent job of it, considering, before the global economic meltdown. But because the meltdown happened before the EU figured out how to manage itself in crisis situations, it is now in a political as well as an economic crisis. With predictable results: Fascists are getting elected wherever sufficient distrust of the other EU members has managed to break to the surface

4)And last but not least, speaking of the long arc of history: here’s a paper in Nature (I haz pdf) about possible “critical transitions” in the global ecosystem in the next century or so. I’ve kind of written about these transitions before. They’re basically what happens to an ecosystem when it stops being resilient enough to withstand a particular environmental pressure: it undergoes a drastic change until it can regain (relative, temporary) equilibrium as an entirely different ecosystem, one that usually doesn’t sustain the same species and communities as before. And this paper basically discusses the possibility that our biosphere is about to undergo a critical transition as a result of human-caused pressures on the system. Some choice quotes:

Here we summarize evidence that such planetary-scale critical transitions have occurred previously in the biosphere, albeit rarely, and that humans are now forcing another such transition, with the potential to transform Earth rapidly and irreversibly into a state unknown in human experience.

This Modelling suggests that for 30% of Earth, the speed at which plant species will have to migrate to keep pace with projected climate change is greater than their dispersal rate when Earth last shifted from a glacial to an interglacial climate, and that dispersal will be thwarted by highly fragmented landscapes.Climates found at present on 10–48% of the planet are projected to disappear within a century, and climates that contemporary organisms have never experienced are likely to cover 12–39% of Earth48. The mean global temperature by 2070 (or possibly a few decades earlier) will be higher than it has been since the human species evolved.

Although the ultimate effects of changing biodiversity and species compositions are still unknown, if critical thresholds of diminishing returns in ecosystem services were reached over large areas and at the same time global demands increased (as will happen if the population increases by
2,000,000,000 within about three decades), widespread social unrest, economic instability and loss of human life could result.

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7 comments on “Playing Cassandra

  1. Jarreg says:

    I’ve been fighting many of the same internal battles. Some degree of optimism, even naive optimism, seems almost essential to motivate people to fight in the face of these odds and at the same time promoting such an optimism feels like engaging in propaganda and distortion. I invested a lot of hope in the Wisconsin recall election because people seemed motivated. We have the internet. We have the social networks at our disposal and it seemed like people could be mobilized against this kind of corporate backed tyranny in spite of the money being invested by the other side. It is disheartening but I am trying to get my bearings about it all. The game only works if the rules of the game are enforced. Rampant voter suppression comes to mind. If one player in a zero sum game learns there are no real consequences to breaking the rules then the player who abides by them loses. That’s just the reality of it. I think I’m ranting now. Sorry. You just got me thinking out loud I guess.

  2. David Marjanović says:

    the cyclical nature of civilizations. All civilizations in the history of humankind have, sooner or later, declined and fallen into a “dark age”.

    Interesting. Have you read any Spengler?

    (I have, that’s why I ask. Der Untergang des Abendlandes, abridged version, at least twice. Quite interesting – but one way it’s interesting in is how it has missed a few exits from a few cycles that have happened since he wrote it in 1918.)

    But because the meltdown happened before the EU figured out how to manage itself in crisis situations, it is now in a political as well as an economic crisis.

    Are you sure that’s how you’d put it?

    From Die Presse, Austria’s highbrow conservative newspaper: short, longer, long article on Tobin Tax.

    Fascists are getting elected wherever sufficient distrust of the other EU members has managed to break to the surface

    Bah. Austria is past that phase, and now Denmark is, too. In Greece, they just had that TV discussion where the party leader openly called “fascist” and “neo-Nazi” by Austrian public-owned TV stood up, threw the water in his glass at the face of the opponent across the table, and then physically attacked the communist sitting next to him (!), slapping her in the face several times and the like. Communist’s comment: “I hope his mother is proud of him.”

    The game only works if the rules of the game are enforced. Rampant voter suppression comes to mind.

    The counting of the votes also comes to mind. How was that done this time?

  3. David Marjanović says:

    Bad news: we just surpassed 400 ppm CO2 in the air. (I’m surprised it’s that late in the year, so long after the beginning of the northern vegetation period; I suppose it’ll drop now till December?) That’s the first time in… how about 15 to 20 million years? How about 55?

    Good news: the late Miocene warm period was not caused by CO2 alone, what with CO2 being only around 200 to 350 ppm at that time ( ~ 12 to 5 million years ago); under modern conditions such levels wouldn’t trigger the almost ice-free climate of that time even in the long run.

    Bad news: creationism is mutating and spreading… it has reached South Korea. “A petition to remove references to evolution from high-school textbooks claimed victory last month after the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) revealed that many of the publishers would produce revised editions that exclude examples of the evolution of the horse or of avian ancestor Archaeopteryx. The move has alarmed biologists, who say that they were not consulted. ‘The ministry just sent the petition out to the publishing companies and let them judge,’ says Dayk Jang, an evolutionary scientist at Seoul National University.”

    WTF moment: from the article cited above… “About half of South Korea’s citizens practice a religion, mostly split between Christianity and Buddhism.

    However, a survey of trainee teachers in the country concluded that religious belief was not a strong determinant of their acceptance of evolution [footnote]. It also found that 40% of biology teachers agreed with the statement that ‘much of the scientific community doubts if evolution occurs’; and half disagreed that ‘modern humans are the product of evolutionary processes’.”

  4. David Marjanović says:

    the article cited above

    Uh, here it is, not above.

  5. David Marjanović says:

    Micro-good news: the figure of 400 ppm was a regional value, not the global average; that remains at 394 ppm.

  6. Paul says:

    [quote]As I’ve written in the past, the notion that “The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice” may be a necessary belief to remain motivated in generations-long battles for justice, but as an “is” statement (as opposed to an “ought” statement), it is naive at best in light of the cyclical nature of civilizations.[/quote]

    I feel bad that seeing this stated makes me happy. I am often irritated when I see that quote in Atheist circles. It takes away the need to struggle, when really there are any number of things that could significantly reverse progress on that issue. The battle sucks and some light is needed, but we can’t afford to forget that the battle will never end.

    [quote]It also found that 40% of biology teachers agreed with the statement that ‘much of the scientific community doubts if evolution occurs’; and half disagreed that ‘modern humans are the product of evolutionary processes’.”[/quote]

    I’d be surprised if numbers varied much at all in the US, unless they are confined to University-level Biology for Life Science Major Professors. My High School Biology teacher’s main qualification was that he was the football coach, and he could give the football players passing grades so that they didn’t lose eligibility to compete. I scored 190% on his final as a (not really all that deeply thinking about it) creationist.

  7. Paul says:

    Ugh…forgive the BBcode. I’ve been staying away from blogs because they’re too much of a timesink, and devolved into old forum habits.

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