OMEGA Digest Vol.12

Articles: The Big Picture


‘America’s (Likely) Violent Future

By Richard Heinberg

It looks to me as though the current period of relative calm may be brief, to be followed by worsening civil hostility.

One of the pieces of evidence leading me to this conclusion is the historical analysis published by ecologist Peter Turchin and colleagues. One of the pieces of evidence leading me to this conclusion is the historical analysis published by ecologist Peter Turchin and colleagues.

For an introductory overview, read “Welcome to the ‘Turbulent Twenties,’” which Turchin co-wrote with sociologist/historian Jack Goldstone; for a more in-depth treatment, dive into Turchin’s Ages of Discord, published in 2016.

As causes of unrest, the authors cite the behavior of elites over recent decades, who have been soaking up ever-larger shares of national wealth, starving the rest of society of the means to maintain infrastructure, educate children, and provide affordable health care. Further, many leaders are increasingly seeking to take advantage of existing divisions among the populace, thereby deepening political polarization and eroding trust in institutions.

Full article “America’s (Likely) Violent Future” published by Post Carbon Institute

‘A Climate Plan for a World in Flames

by Kim Stanley Robinson

Each moment in history has its own “structure of feeling”, as the cultural theorist Raymond Williams put it, which changes as new things happen. When I write stories set in the next few decades, I try to imagine that shift in feeling, but it’s very hard to do because the present structure shapes even those kinds of speculations. Right now things feel massively entrenched, but also fragile. We can’t go on but we can’t change. Even though we are one species on one planet, there seems no chance of general agreement or global solidarity. The best that can be hoped for is a working political majority, reconstituted daily in the attempt to do the necessary things for ourselves and the generations to come.

It’s a tough challenge that will never go away. It’s easy to despair. Still, recently some things have happened that give me cause for hope. I wrote my novel The Ministry for the Future in 2019. That time surely torqued my vision because several important developments — ones I described in my novel as happening in the 2030s — I see now are already well begun. My timeline was completely off; events have accelerated yet again.

Full Artice: Kim Stanley Robinson: a climate plan for a world in flames, by Kim Stanley Robinson, Financial Times.

The climate refugees are coming.

Countries and international law aren’t ready for them

by Omar EL Akkad

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 82 million people were displaced by conflict in 2020 – the highest number ever recorded. Yet as stunning as that figure is, it might come to be thought of in hindsight – like the current wildfires and droughts and floods – not as the terminus of some horrible trend, but the beginning. It is almost certain that, in the coming few decades, the world will see a mass displacement of human beings almost unmatched in modern history.

Depending on how high the seas rise, hundreds of millions of people who call a piece of coastland home might find it underwater. Huge swaths of the Middle East and Africa – already so sweltering that countries such as the United Arab Emirates are experimenting with electrically charged drones designed to shock clouds into producing rain – may soon become too hot for human habitation. Millions upon millions of people will be driven beyond the borders of their home countries by a crisis that has absolutely no concern for borders.

Full article: The climate refugees are coming. Countries and international law aren’t ready for them, by Omar El Akkad published by The Globe and Mail.

The Case For Optimism

by Kevin Kelly

Civilization depends on an implicit degree of general optimism. It is a collaborative exercise. Civilization amplifies and accumulates cooperation between strangers. If you expect that you can trust a stranger, that is optimism. If you expect to be cheated or hurt, that is pessimism. Societies that bring the most good to the most people require that people be trusted more than they are distrusted; that they expect more good than harm; they require that people, in general, have more hope than fear. Societies that have more pessimism than optimism tend not to prosper.

The default stance in any thriving civilization is optimistic: it operates on the assumption that in general, most people, most of the time, will cooperate. They can be trusted to be honest and this cooperation will produce positive results that add up to more than the sum. Civilization requires trust; trust requires optimism; civilization requires optimism.

Full article: The Case for Optimism, by Kevin Kelly, Warpnews.org.

Nature has ceased to trust us’

by Steve Trent

“Nature has begun to deceive us, and some say that nature has ceased to trust us. Most of our old people say that we have always adapted, but the changes have always been gradual. Now the changes are happening too quickly, and we do not have time to adapt to them. What used to happen over decades can now happen within one or two years.

Nature always loves balance. Therefore, [the old people] say we have lost the trust of nature. The way we dealt with her led to this.” These are the words of Viacheslav Ivanovich Shadrin, chairman of the Yukaghir Elders, an ancient Indigenous population of Arctic Siberia who live in some of the most severe climates in the inhabited world.

Read full the article ‘Nature has ceased to trust us’, by Steve Trent, Ecologist.


Articles: Deep Dive


A critical ocean system may be heading for collapse due to climate change

by Sarah Kaplan

And the apparent consequences of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) slowing are already being felt. A persistent “cold blob” in the ocean south of Greenland is thought to result from less warm water reaching that region.

The lagging Gulf Stream has caused exceptionally high sea-level rise along the U.S. East Coast. Key fisheries have been upended by the rapid temperature swings, and beloved species are struggling to cope with the changes. If the AMOC does completely shut down, the change would be irreversible in human lifetimes, Boers said. The “bi-stable” nature of the phenomenon means it will find new equilibrium in its “off” state. Turning it back on would require a shift in the climate far greater than the changes that triggered the shutdown.

Read the full article A critical ocean system may be heading for collapse due to climate change, by Sarah Kaplan, The Washington Post.

No Work, No Food: Pandemic Deepens Global Hunger

by Christina Goldbaum

An estimated 270 million people are expected to face potentially life-threatening food shortages this year — compared to 150 million before the pandemic — according to analysis from the World Food Program, the anti-hunger agency of the United Nations. The number of people on the brink of famine, the most severe phase of a hunger crisis, jumped to 41 million people currently from 34 million last year, the analysis showed…. In South Africa, typically one of the most food-secure nations on the continent, hunger has rippled across the country. Over the past year, three devastating waves of the virus have taken tens of thousands of breadwinners — leaving families unable to buy food. Monthslong school closures eliminated the free lunches that fed around nine million students. A strict government lockdown last year shuttered informal food vendors in townships, forcing some of the country’s poorest residents to travel farther to buy groceries and shop at more expensive supermarkets.

Read the full article ‘No Work, No Food: Pandemic Deepens Global Hunger’, by Christina Goldbaum, The New York Times.

Africa’s Covid Crisis Deepens, but Vaccines Are Still Far Off

by Abdi Latif Dahir and Josh Holder

Africa is now in the deadliest stage of its pandemic, and there is little prospect of relief in sight. The Delta variant is sweeping across the continent. Namibia and Tunisia are reporting more deaths per capita than any other country. Hospitals across the continent are filling up, oxygen supplies and medical workers are stretched thin and recorded deaths jumped 40 percent last week alone. But only about 1 percent of Africans have been fully vaccinated. And even the African Union’s modest goal of getting 20 percent of the population vaccinated by the end of 2021 seems out of reach.

Africa’s Covid Crisis Deepens, but Vaccines Are Still Far Off, by Abdi Latif Dahir and Josh Holder, The New York Times.

Michael Lewis Chronicles the Story of Covid’s Cassandras

by Nicholas Confessore

We do not yet know how the movie ends. But Lewis, whose book is among the first wave of narrative accounts of the pandemic, is more interested in how it began. Believed to be the rich country best prepared for a pandemic, we ended up with almost a fifth of the world’s Covid deaths. Popular blame has centered, not undeservedly, on former President Donald Trump, who ignored his advisers’ warnings, publicly downplayed Covid’s dangers in the hopes of preserving his re-election chances and left states to fend for themselves. But Lewis has a different thesis. As one character puts it, “Trump was a comorbidity.” The rot ran deep through the American system of public health, and in particular the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, once considered a crown jewel of American government.

Read full article Michael Lewis Chronicles the Story of Covid’s Cassandras, by Nicholas Confessore, The New York Times.

U.S. Heat Is So Bad Farmers See a ‘Half Crop’ for Spring Wheat

by Kim Chipman

The harsh conditions will send yields for spring wheat in the state plunging to 29.1 bushels an acre this year, according to final assessment of estimates following the Wheat Quality Council’s crop tour. While that’s slightly higher than the most-recent estimate from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it would still mean a drop of 41% from last year’s harvest. Spring wheat is highly prized worldwide for giving foods like pizza crust and bagels their chewiness. This season’s expected shortfall hits as neighboring Canada contends with extreme heat and dryness as well, putting those crops at risk. North American baking and milling companies may end up having to look overseas for imports. Some farmers, after battling shriveled crops and damaging grasshoppers, have already opted to bale up plants for hay or consider the entire field a loss.

U.S. Heat Is So Bad Farmers See a ‘Half Crop’ for Spring Wheat, by Kim Chipman, Bloomberg.


Omega Digest Vol. 11

Articles: The Big Picture


MIT Predicted in 1972 That Society Will Collapse This Century. New Research Shows We’re on Schedule.

by Nafeez Ahmend

A remarkable new study by a director at one of the largest accounting firms in the world has found that a famous, decades-old warning from MIT about the risk of industrial civilization collapsing appears to be accurate based on new empirical data.

As the world looks forward to a rebound in economic growth following the devastation wrought by the pandemic, the research raises urgent questions about the risks of attempting to simply return to the pre-pandemic ‘normal.’ In 1972, a team of MIT scientists got together to study the risks of civilizational collapse.

Their system dynamics model published by the Club of Rome identified impending ‘limits to growth’ (LtG) that meant industrial civilization was on track to collapse sometime within the 21st century, due to overexploitation of planetary resources. MIT Predicted in 1972 That Society Will Collapse This Century.

Read the full article ‘New Research Shows We’re on Schedule’ by Nafeez Ahmed, Vice News.

How to Live in a Climate ‘Permanent Emergency

by David Wallace-Wells

The phrase Washington State Governor Jay Inslee used was “permanent emergency.” This was before Lytton — the town that had, days earlier, set Canada’s all-time heat record, drawing waves of “heat tourists” as witnesses to “desert heat” north of 120 degrees in a place where typical June highs were in the mid-70s — burned to the ground just 15 minutes after the arrival of smoke. It was before wildfires raging in British Columbia produced their own pyrocumulus thunderstorms, which produced their own lightning strikes that lit up the landscape again with fire — 3,800 lightning strikes, according to one count, each striking the dry tinder that those in the West now know to call “fuel” and the rest of the world, watching an agonizing drought and heat event unfold, is learning to call just “the West.” A tinderbox half a continent-wide.

Read the full article ‘How to Live in a Climate ‘Permanent Emergency’, by David Wallace-Wells, New York Intelligencer.

Scientists’ warning on affluence

by Thomas Wiedmann, Manfred Lenzen, Lorenz T. Keyßer & Julia K. Steinberger

For over half a century, worldwide growth in affluence has continuously increased resource use and pollutant emissions far more rapidly than these have been reduced through better technology. The affluent citizens of the world are responsible for most environmental impacts and are central to any future prospect of retreating to safer environmental conditions. We summarise the evidence and present possible solution approaches. Any transition towards sustainability can only be effective if far-reaching lifestyle changes complement technological advancements. However, existing societies, economies and cultures incite consumption expansion and the structural imperative for growth in competitive market economies inhibits necessary societal change,

Read the full paper Scientists’ warning on affluence by Thomas Wiedmann, Manfred Lenzen, Lorenz T. Keyßer & Julia K. Steinberger, Resilience.org.

It Seems Odd That We Would Just Let the World Burn

by Ezra Klein

It’s true that there is a discordance between the pitch of the rhetoric on climate and the normalcy of the lives many of us live. I don’t see that as a revelation of political misdirection so much as a constant failure of human nature. We are inconsistent creatures who routinely court the catastrophes we most fear. We do so because we don’t feel the pain of others as our own because there are social constraints on our actions and imaginations because the future is an abstraction and the pleasures of this instant are a siren. That is true with our health and our finances and our loves and so, of course, it is true with our world. All of this has been on my mind for reasons that should be extraordinary, but have become, instead, grimly banal.

Read the full article: It Seems Odd That We Would Just Let the World Burn, by Ezra Klein, The New York Times.


Articles: Deep Dive

South Africa will miss UN’s clean water targets

by Sheree Bega

Southern Africa’s “water tower” — the majestic Maloti-Drakensberg mountain range — is slipping towards a state of ecosystem collapse, with grave implications for water security. According to Dr Ralph Clark, the director of the Afromontane research unit at the University of the Free State, the Maloti-Drakensberg range is the largest provider of freshwater in the region, and its alpine system is crucial to this function. The Maloti-Drakensberg is a critical water source area, supporting nearly half of South Africa’s GDP, supplying Gauteng with 34% of its water and Bloemfontein with 70%. The problems facing the mountain ecosystem are neither simple nor driven by a single cause, Clark says. “You’ve got immediate local-scale impacts and global impacts such as climate change. “Southern Africa’s ‘water tower’ slipping towards ecosystem collapse,”

Read full article by Sheree Bega, Mail & Guardian.

The climate crisis will create two classes: those who can flee, and those who cannot,

by Peter Gleick

In April, the UN High Commissioner for refugees released a report showing that climate- and weather-related disasters already displace more than 20 million people a year, and a report from the Australian Institute for Economics and Peace suggests that more than a billion people could be displaced by climate and weather disasters by 2050. How bad will it get? I don’t know because there are natural factors that could slightly slow or, more likely, massively speed up, the rate of change, causing cascading and accelerating disasters faster than we can adapt.

Read the full article The climate crisis will create two classes: those who can flee, and those who cannot, by Peter Gleick, The Guardian.

We must burn the West to save it

by Umair Irfan

These records, plus what we know about how fires were suppressed since the 1800s, point toward how much American Indians in the western US engineered the landscape with their burning practices for thousands of years. European settlers arrived and saw a landscape that had been methodically cultivated, like forests with trees spaced far apart and with little leaf litter on the ground. But they often failed to recognize it as such…. These Indigenous burns serve cultural purposes, like maintaining trails, helping food plants grow, and providing materials for building and crafts. Such fires don’t just hinge on “when” and “how,” but on “why,” which in turn demands sophisticated local insight. For practitioners, it’s not just a tactic, but a way of thinking about how they interact with the natural world.

Read full article We must burn the West to save it, by Umair Irfan, Vox.

Omega Digest Vol.10

Omega News Digest Vol.8

The Long View Vol.8

“In other words,” say 17 of the world’s leading ecologists in a stark new perspective on our place in life and time, “humanity is running an ecological Ponzi scheme in which society robs nature and future generations to pay for boosting incomes in the short term.”

Their starkly titled article, “Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future,” reads less as an argument than as a rain of asteroids encountered in the course of flying blind on a lethal trajectory. The authors’ stated goal is not to dispirit readers. “Ours is not a call to surrender,” they write, “we aim to provide leaders with a realistic ‘cold shower’ of the state of the planet that is essential for planning to avoid a ghastly future.”

Avoiding a ‘Ghastly Future’: Hard Truths on the State of the Planet, By Carl Safina, Yale Environment 360.


Explaining how bad it is will increasingly have to come alongside even more powerful stories that explain why this is happening, how it came to this, and what we can all do together to fight for a livable future.

While it will be harder, if not impossible to justify the pre-2019 approach of marginalizing environmental narratives that were open about the peril we face, greater destabilization will throw up a range of other tensions and potential narrative risks. Fear and violence are alive to exploitation in scarier, less stable times; the victory of an openly barbaric, eco-nativist political narrative is an unthinkable but, as yet, unacceptably probable outcome. We must be wise to political as well as natural system feedbacks. This means fashioning a candor befitting the times and which sustains the unshakable belief – no matter what happens and against what may feel like unassailable odds – that our collective efforts can and will lead to change and to healing. Notes from a 1.2C world,

by Laurie Laybourn-Langton, OMEGA. 

Articles: The Big Picture


If you watched the excellent series on the Chernobyl disaster, you can see with perfect hindsight why many say that Chernobyl was the proximate cause for the collapse of the Soviet Union. You can see it in the way incentives drove bad decisions, which reinforced each other. This is what complexity science calls a positive feedback loop. The recent winter storms in Texas offer another teachable moment, illustrating how failures in one system cascade over to other systems. Freezing rain and snow break the electric and heating grid. Pipes break and the water system collapses. Transport stalls and stores are not restocked. An already overstrained health system drops more services. The science points to more of these breakdowns – and, let’s be clear, there is no credible dissent to the science. In this light, isn’t it time to prepare for it “just in case”? We’re Living in a Global Polycrisis: It’s Time to Build Resiliency, by David Bonbright, Giving Compass.  

Hundreds of scientists, writers, and academics from 30 countries sounded a warning to humanity in an open letter published in the Guardian in December: Policymakers and the rest of us must “engage openly with the risk of disruption and even collapse of our societies.” “Damage to the climate and environment” will be the overarching cause, and “researchers in many areas” have projected widespread social collapse as “a credible scenario this century.” Op-Ed: Collapseologists are warning humanity that business-as-usual will make the Earth uninhabitable, by Christopher Ketcham & Jeff Gibbs, Los Angeles Times

With a million species at risk of extinction, dozens of countries are pushing to protect at least 30 percent of the planet’s land and water by 2030. Their goal is to hammer out a global agreement at negotiations to be held in China later this year, designed to keep intact natural areas like old-growth forests and wetlands that nurture biodiversity, store carbon, and filter water. But many people who have been protecting nature successfully for generations won’t be deciding on the deal: Indigenous communities and others who have kept room for animals, plants, and their habitats, not by fencing off nature, but by making a small living from it. The key to their success, research shows, is not extracting too much. There’s a Global Plan to Conserve Nature. Indigenous People Could Lead the Way, by Somini Sengupta, Catrin Einhorn, and Manuela Andreoni, The New York Times.

Articles: Deep Dive

Under the Twentieth-Century Synthesis, areas of law that concern aspects of “the economy”—for example, contracts, corporations, and antitrust—were given over to a “law and economics” approach that emphasized wealth maximization. Meanwhile, other values—such as equality, dignity, and privacy—were supposed to be realized in constitutional law and areas of public administration. Shaped by these ideological currents, constitutional law turned away from concerns of economic power, structural inequality, and systemic problems of racial subordination. Other “public law” areas did the same. The result was that deep structures of power at the meeting place of state and economy were shielded from legal remedy and came to seem increasingly natural. How Law Made Neoliberalism, by Jedediah Britton-Purdy, Amy Kapczynski, & David Singh Grewal, Boston Review.

The point of the report is simply this: The world’s economic systems teeter atop “backward-looking risk assessment models that merely extrapolate historical trends.” But the future will not be like the past. Our models are degrading by the day, and we don’t understand — we don’t want to understand — how much in society could topple when they fail, and how much suffering that could bring. One place to start is by recognizing how fragile the basic infrastructure of civilization is even now, in this climate, in rich countries. Which brings me to Texas. Texas Is a Rich State in a Rich Country, and Look What Happened, by Ezra Klein, The New York Times.

It’s one of the mightiest rivers you will never see, carrying some 30 times more water than all the world’s freshwater rivers combined. In the North Atlantic, one arm of the Gulf Stream breaks toward Iceland, transporting vast amounts of warmth far northward, by one estimate supplying Scandinavia with heat equivalent to 78,000 times its current energy use. Without this current — a heat pump on a planetary scale — scientists believe that great swathes of the world might look quite different. Now, a spate of studies, including one published last week, suggests this northern portion of the Gulf Stream and the deep ocean currents it’s connected to may be slowing. Pushing the bounds of oceanography, scientists have slung necklace-like sensor arrays across the Atlantic to better understand the complex network of currents that the Gulf Stream belongs to, not only at the surface but hundreds of feet deep. In the Atlantic Ocean, Subtle Shifts Hint at Dramatic Dangers, by Moises Velasquez-Manoff & Jeremy White, The New York Times.

We are in a global baby bust of unprecedented proportions. It is far from over and its implications are gravely underestimated. The worldwide fertility rate has already dropped more than 50 percent in the past 50 years, from 5.1 births per woman in 1964 to 2.4 in 2018, according to the World Bank. In 2020, the 20 percent shortfall below replacement rate in US fertility, together with low net immigration, produced the lowest population growth on record of 0.35 percent, below even the flu pandemic of 1918. Many countries, including Italy, South Korea, and Japan, are predicted to see their populations drop by more than half by the end of this century. The severe cost of the world’s baby bust, by Jeremy Grantham, Financial Times.