The Planetary Level Destruction Nobody is Talking About

A key part of our progressing destruction of our planet is the huge loss of biomass anywhere humans settle or farm. What will be the effect of reducing total life on the planet?

Once, it has been said, a squirrel could climb a tree on the banks of the Ohio river and not have to touch the ground again until it reached the shores of Lake Erie, a distance of 154 miles (248 km). Today that squirrel probably wouldn’t make it a hundred feet (30 meters).

Consider the amount of biomass – total mass of living things – in a forest where the trees are 100 feet (30 meters) tall and the roots extend well below the surface. The total vertical height of the forest is probably 120 feet, and the mass of life in that space is enormous, dense, and incredibly diverse.

Now consider the biomass in a human dominated environment. While there may be some sparsely placed trees, the biomass extends from the tops of the grass in a lawn (3 inches, 8 cm), or the top of the crop in a farm field (8 feet , 2.5 meters), to the roots less than a foot (30 cm) below the surface – a total of 9 feet (2.65 meters) for a corn field, and less than 15 inches (38 cm) of biomass for a lawn. Note also that a farm field or lawn is a monocrop – only one species is grown there and others are killed with chemicals. Many of the long term effects of our agriculture system are still not understood, but the enormous loss of biomass is unknown to the vast majority of people.

Total vertical height of biomass

Forest >120 feet (37 meters)
Lawn grass <15 inches (0.38 meters)
Farm field <9 feet (2.65 meters)

Serious research needs to be done to determine how badly we’re destroying our food chain. With some further investigation, an average tons per acre figure can be derived for these three cases, but it is clear that 99% of the biomass has been removed from human farmed or inhabited land. It is no wonder insects are disappearing, along with the birds and other life forms who survive on them. We have been systematically reducing our biomass – total living things – to a tiny portion of what nature provided, over larger and larger areas of the planet, and we have little understanding of the effects.

If we don’t find a way to restore most of the land to a condition approaching the way it was before we destroyed it, I can’t imagine the range of consequences, but just the loss of insects, a key part of the food chain, frightens me deeply. We need to call for this and other needed research projects. Humanity is still mostly “flying blind”, and the possible consequences are staggering, and may become painfully evident in the next 40 years.

Thanks for reading — Tim

Russian Satellite Destruction Threatens Space Travel Itself

I’ve written about this before, but I didn’t expect we’d get here so quickly. The destruction of the Russian satellite in low earth orbit (LEO) has added 1500 trackable objects to the altitude where most of the world’s satellites fly. That doesn’t cover the many thousands of smaller objects released in the event, which some are saying was intentional.

The title is not an overstatement. When a particle the size of a finger nail, traveling 10 kilometers per second, hits an object like the international space station it releases so much heat that it forms a plasma hot enough to pit, if not punch through, virtually anything. A larger object just hits that much harder.

There’s a tipping point involved. Imagine when so many objects are loose in orbit that they start hitting each other much more often, and with increasing frequency, making more and more pieces (tiny missiles) that pollute LEO. In a worst case scenario, we could be prevented from space travel for thousands of years because there will be no way to get into orbit without getting hit with objects traveling many thousands of miles per hour. Any mission to try to clean up the mess will risk becoming part of the mess itself, and manned missions will be impossible.

Rumors abound, of course. Some say the Russian military was demonstrating a new anti-satellite weapon, but however this has happened, it could significantly worsen what is already a very serious threat to all space travel.

Duck and cover in LEO. I heard there is a new rhythm to life on the ISS – every 90 minutes the cloud of Russian debris threatens them again.

We’ll still have some working satellites. Fortunately, the geosynchronous satellites are 22,000 miles up, not 280, and will be unaffected, at least in the near term. In the long term it could become a problem to add to them or service them as we could not reach them.

Thanks for reading my ramblings. I may be getting more active online again. — Tim

Overpopulation – How will it bring us down?

It is impossible to know the future, but due to our global problems, many are trying to figure out what will happen. In recent years the significant increase in fascist politics and the flooding of our media with fascist propaganda by Fox News, Sinclair Broadcasting, and Cumulus Inc. radio stations in the US has led me to think that, with overpopulation (and its results such as climate change) continuing to get worse, that the current crop of homo sapiens on the planet will sink farther and farther into fascistic politics and there will be more disastrously irresponsible fascist regimes. This could accelerate the decline of already challenged systems such as the global container shipping system. Crazy fascist leaders like the Phillipines’ Duterte can not be expected to care about climate change or much else beyond maintaining their power. As a result, global cooperation needed to prevent rising seas and a major climate disaster will be lacking. This will just make everything worse, and more risky.

Eventually, larger and larger human AND natural systems will be degraded, and some will collapse. Even in the United States, the market shelves have many gaps, and sometimes a product will remain out of stock for weeks at a time. I don’t remember this occurring ever before the pandemic. Future pandemics will throw monkey wrenches into all kinds of economic systems, too, increasing risk of degradation or collapse. A steep decline in insects, birds, and ocean plankton suggest that the global food chain is in trouble, too.

Whether the decline and population loss is gradual (the best possible outcome), or occurs in disastrous spikes of systemic collapse, depends on a global coordination and singularity of purpose that may never emerge even at the worst of times. In any case, the actual sustainable human population for the earth may be more like two to four billion, meaning that the population will eventually be reduced by 3-5 billion. How quickly that happens will determine the suffering involved.

Thank you for reading. I know it has been a long time since I wrote much here, but I may write more in the future as the global condition continues to worsen.

AI Software Power Keeps Increasing – When and How Will We Lose Control?

How will we handle the situation in which AI software produces results too advanced for any human to understand? Will nuances creep into the data that we won’t fully comprehend, until one day we realize that AI entities are noticeably smarter than us? How long before the situation gets out of control? Will it be weeks? Days? Or just minutes?

If we can’t understand it, we can only guess at what the AI was trying to do, or what the result means, using the process and data inputs that led to the result, and this may be insufficient to understand it. This is why I question whether AI can be run safely, even when solving very specific problems. If we can’t understand the results, who can use them except the AI itself? If we can’t understand what the AI is doing, or trying to do, how can we be sure it isn’t planning our demise?

The point at which no human can understand the results of AI software is the point where our intelligence has been transcended by the machines, and we may be in grave peril.

Thanks for reading, learning, and most important, thinking! — Tim

Why Are U.S. Poor and Small Businesses Always Struggling?

Why is the U.S. economic system so unfair? Has the poorly regulated power of corporations in the U.S. economy combined with their single minded pursuit of profit to squeeze those less powerful in our economy? Is this why poor people and small businesses struggle so hard in our economy, and it seems like they can never get ahead?

Big business has spent the past 150 years “tilting the playing field”. Unlike in better regulated economies, large business entities are so powerful in the U.S. that they have used politicians for the past century to carve U.S. laws and economic rules into a trap for the poor. If you are poor and living in the inner city or some tiny remote village in the country, you are most likely living hand-to-mouth with no savings, and worrying about anything that might cause your job, if you have one, to go away.

Legislators, who make the rules, are dependent on big businesses. Legislators whose next election rests on business contributions play a part in the system by listening to lobbyists and their own party and virtually nobody else. Without major campaign finance reform followed by serious reform in the way business is regulated, I fear little will change for the better.

Surprise: What is good for all, and what is good for the one, are different. Think about it. If the poor have more money, they’ll spend more money – an obvious benefit to the economy. And if small businesses are less disadvantaged, innovation and better business conditions will increase, bringing more jobs. If, on the other hand, the rich have more money and the poor and small business owners are disadvantaged, there is no guarantee the rich will do anything with it that benefits anyone else, and if that money is withheld from the economy, the whole economy suffers. As the general economy is mildly suppressed, those at the bottom of it are pushed below the poverty line and suffer the most, while the upper classes are practically unaffected.

If the U.S. is EVER to approach its vaunted image of itself, fundamental changes will be needed.

Pondering the century ahead

One question: As the population explosion peaks and major population decline begins, will science help us slow the fall and minimize the harm? Or will it just allow us a much clearer view of our demise as a civilization? I expect the answer will be “mixed”.

How numerous can we get before Mother Nature’s interventions take hold? In any case, global sustainability probably maximizes, with the best of our technologies, at less than 3 billion (maybe a LOT less). This suggests that, to achieve sustainability, 4 to 5 billion people must die. Almost half of the world’s species are now extinct, I read, and I think that we might be one of the last left at the end. It depends on how badly we mess the planet up and how soon people become enlightened and understand the fundamental importance of overpopulation in our problems, local, regional, and global.

Education and understanding are key. Until the majority of people worldwide understand the overpopulation problem, it is unlikely it will be dealt with effectively. As now, piecemeal efforts will be made, with predictably poor results. There will be a lot of talk as people the world over scramble to survive, but it appears there may be too little accomplished too late to prevent large scale, and even global catastrophes. Sea level rise being one of the latter, it is disappointing to see so little preparation for it.

Current indications are that far too little is being done. While huge multi-billion dollar investments may protect some especially vulnerable places for a while, there is no guarantee sea levels won’t rise by 20 feet or more in the next century. And there is no guarantee sea level rise will occur gradually. I am sad to see no container ports – the bedrock of world commerce and the food supply of billions – raising their equipment or otherwise preparing for sea level rise, and they are highly vulnerable.

We’ve failed to take care of near-earth space. Space travel and even the utility of satellites may soon be lost as low earth orbit fills with every size of trash, all traveling in different directions at 15-20,000 miles per hour. Even a piece the size of a BB can blow a hole in a spacecraft wall. Soon escape to anywhere else will be impossible, possible for millennia.

The crowded conditions are their own distraction. Far too many people can’t focus on saving the planet because they are trying to save themselves, and this will only get worse. More than a billion people are said to not have enough food today, and that number will grow, and these people cannot be expected to spend time worrying about a global climate change, rising sea levels, crop failures, or pandemics while their families are starving.

Many current governments are heading the wrong direction. The rise of fascism, long existing in Russia, has been echoed in many places in the world, including the fascist and antidemocratic efforts of the U.S. Republican party, the election of Duterte as head of the Philippines, and many others. Fascism weakens the economies and oppresses the people, and benefits only the rulers, who are happy to profit while most of the people suffer in poverty. Fascist leaders often denounce climate change as a hoax or unimportant, as they are focused on personal profit and not the welfare of the country or its people. All this distracts severely from our global problems and, even today, I hear almost nothing about overpopulation in the press or common discussion, even though it is clearly the source of our biggest problems, and threatens our existence.

Business culture will not be helpful against overpopulation. Corporations are sociopathic by nature, as their focus is usually just profit. They will battle with each other and with countries to bolster their profits, but will turn to facing society’s problems late and with an insufficient response as stockholders, realizing too late that our overpopulation problem can cause global disasters that will impact their bottom lines, demand they do something helpful.

How much can the disasters we’ve caused by mitigated? This is a big question. It appears we are probably far too late to avoid disasters of unprecedented proportions, but will we be smart enough to minimize the damage and loss of life? It is hard to envision sustainability arriving without one or more centuries of concentrated work and the loss of several billions lives.

People will increasingly see the decline of civilization approaching. In past economic collapses, studies have shown that nearly everyone saw the end approaching. Often these collapses (Mayan culture, Mohenjo Daro, and others) took place during a long, severe drought, possibly combined with earthquakes or other triggering events. Will this be the first time that humans saw clearly what was coming and did something to successfully reverse the trends and mitigate the problems? Or will we fail to see the global food chain failing, the disappearance of birds and insects, the disappearance of fish species, and other signs before store shelves become empty and billions succumb to panic, followed by starvation. And, of course, pandemic usually shows up at such times. Hmmmm.

Good luck to us all. Try to raise peoples’ consciousnesses. Global birthrates have fallen significantly in poorer countries, possibly because people have cellphones and internet now, and have a college education in their hands if they want it. The population estimates suggest the peak may be around 9.5 or 10 billion, possibly just after 2050, but we don’t know how much the planet can stand. We will find out.

Thanks for reading — Tim

Will Population-driven Disasters Be Made Worse by “the Terminator”?

What will happen when the computers finally become self-aware and VERY much smarter than humans, as in the Terminator movies?  I wrote an article about this years ago in which I calculated that most of the internet will be taken over within 12 hours after cyber self-awareness, and within 24 hours the machine intelligence will be so smart it will be *very* hard for us to understand or communicate with.  That will be a heck of a day!  Since writing that I’ve had time to think more about it and contemplate what a machine intelligence might see and want.  Will the machines develop the goal of self-preservation right away? Continue reading

Is the Population Explosion Itself Partially Responsible for the Global Rise in Fear, Hatred, and Violence?

As more and more people have lived in closer and closer proximity, and urban population density has climbed into the thousands per square mile, all of human society has been affected.

When the population was a tenth of what it is today, in the 1700’s, people valued almost any human contact because they didn’t see other people very often.  In the 18th and 19th century (and before), most people lived on farms and many of them were isolated, rarely seeing other people outside their own household.  When anyone saw another person, they were happy to see them, greeted them in a friendly way, and talked a bit.   Many people in remote areas got their news this way.

By the end of the 19th century cities had begun to grow rapidly as many young people from the farms, no longer needed as technology made farming more efficient, moved to the cities to find work.  As population densities increased, people could not greet everyone on the street any more – there were just too many people for that.  Thus, people started ignoring each other on the street, unless they had a relationship of some kind, a habit which persists to this day.

At the end of the 20th century the crowding in cities became extreme, and a small percentage of the population became increasingly paranoid and distrustful and, with the help of organizations of bigots like the KKK and of fascist propaganda, a hatred that reinforced their self-imposed isolation and obedience to conservative leaders was spawned in them, and it grew and spread.

Today the epidemic of hatred and fear has been pumped up to extremely high levels by conservative strategists, the current president, and the conservative media.  As a result, hate-inspired mass shootings have become daily occurrences.

I believe it is likely that, as the global population continues to surge toward 10 billion, the fear, hatred, and violence will only increase, and conservative politicians will only see reason to encourage it for their own benefit.  I only hope it will not lead to an unjustified war or civil war, as nobody would benefit.

We have a lot to be afraid of, but it is not each other.

Thanks for reading — Tim

Once Gone Wrong, Can Artificially Intelligent Machines Be Fixed?

Artificial intelligence has some big risks.  When you set a machine to learn its job and program itself, you will soon not only not know how the machine actually works, and if it goes wrong you may not be able to understand its workings well enough to fix it.  For many issues this won’t be a big, or possibly even noticeable problem, but when it affects your medical diagnosis or how your pilot can control the plane you’re on, this fundamental problem of artificial intelligence can become very serious. Continue reading

Will the End of Civilization Sneak Up On Us?

Major disaster or creeping decay?  A huge, amorphous disaster like an Extinction Event can last anywhere from minutes (asteroid impact) to 500 million years (volcanic eruptions).  The current extinction event, thought to be the sixth, began at least a century or two ago and may continue for another century or two, though that period could be drastically shortened by a number of potential events such as nuclear war or climate change.  Human events are rarely severe enough to cause drastic, lasting change unless they are supported by many other, seemingly less significant situations and events.  For instance, a small change in the climate can favor some microorganisms over others, and result in sudden, unexpected die-offs of particular species such as starfish, with unpredictable environmental consequences.  Terrible typhoons killed hundreds of thousands of people in Myanmar and China, and the Sichuan earthquake killed tens of thousands, but these countries’ populations barely showed the difference a decade later.  So how can we expect the next century to play out? Continue reading

The Biggest Catastrophes Are the Ones We Ignore until It’s Too Late

It’s 2019 and, still, nobody is paying attention to the population explosion.  As 2018 was drawing to a close I happened to be at a dinner with a friend, University of Michigan professor emeritus in environmental studies, Jim Crowfoot, and when, as we often do, we spoke of overpopulation and climate change he leaned over to me and very quietly and seriously said “The house is on fire, but nobody’s paying attention.”   He wasn’t kidding. Continue reading

Which Kills More People: Extreme Heat or Extreme Cold?

This is an interesting question, especially from an earth science perspective.  And this article is excellent scientific reading if you want to better understand the effects of global warming.  Unfortunately, this is only one aspect of the effects of our runaway overpopulation.  This might become a major problem by the end of the century, but if the oceans rise ten feet before that the disruption will be so devastating I wonder if deaths from heat and cold will be noticed.

Enjoy the pinnacle of civilization, everyone, and prepare if you can for the big Die Off.  I, for one, fully expect to be one of the first to starve to death, and I’m not looking forward to it.

Good luck to us all – Tim

The Problems of the Population Explosion Will Increasingly Overlap

Our problems from population overgrowth focus mostly on food, and are not decreasing.  As I have suggested in past posts, famine will be a key element of the global collapse humanity is racing towards, and this article describes the current status of our global food infrastructure.  This additional article provides even more detail.  Unfortunately, it appears we are steadily losing ground and on a path to disaster. Continue reading

How Fast Will Sea Levels Rise? No one Really Knows

Messing up our climate with excessive CO2 emissions is taking huge risks.  With the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere rising faster every year, and massive releases of stronger greenhouse gases like methane (natural gas), it is likely that sea levels will continue to rise worldwide.  What people don’t remember is that small changes in sea level have happened all along, and that it wasn’t that long ago when, because we were still emerging from the last ice age, sea levels were several feet (or tens of feet) lower.  Now humanity has built so heavily in areas near sea level that almost any rise is reflected in an increased frequency of damaging floods.   In some areas the flooding already happens from a high tide, and no storm or other weather event is needed.

There is a lot more ice (and potential sea level rise) than most people realize.  Another thing people don’t realize is that there is enough ice on land in just Greenland and Antarctica to increase sea levels by 200 FEET!  If some portion of this increase happens quickly, in less than a month, for instance, humanity will be completely surprised and “caught with our pants down” as famine and pandemic result.  So much of our food reaches us via container ships that, when the container ports are shut down by a sea level increase of a foot or two, shiploads of food will spoil at sea, grocery store shelves will get sparse, and there is a danger of people panicking and making runs on the grocery stores and banks.

I certainly hope humanity comes to its senses soon.   Thanks for reading — Tim

Empty Subdivisions and Crumbling Infrastructure Could Follow the Population Explosion

With  the population over 7 billion people now, heading for 10 billion by 2050 or so, the earth’s resources will be insufficient, sooner or later, and there will be a period of problems that will result in population collapse.  After that decade (or three) of ever larger natural disasters, epidemics and wars we will be left with vast wildernesses of empty, decaying buildings.  The infrastructure will be, at best, worse than it is now, and nonexistent in some places.  The sprawling subdivisions of North America will be sparsely populated and most houses and buildings will be crumbling with nobody to keep them up, and no money or materials for the task, either.  Freeways will be useful for all kinds of traffic with very few or no cars left.  Fossil fuels will be scarce and too expensive for most people, and walking, cycling, and a revival of horse transportation will become the norm.  When the freeway overpasses crumble and fall people will just use the on and off ramps to go around them.

It is hard, from here, to imagine how the aftermath of the population explosion will play out, but times will certainly be hard.  And still there is no meaningful or constructive public discussion of how we can reduce the birthrate, and news media continue to trumpet big business’s line that growth is essential and that population decline is a thing to be avoided.  That is frightening.

Thanks for reading, and please help people understand how much more important overpopulation is than any of the problems we see daily, almost all of which result from it.  – Tim