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,

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.

Why Peru is reviving a pre-Incan technology for water

By Erica Gies

Today, modern Peruvians are redeploying that ancient knowledge and protecting natural ecosystems such as high-altitude wetlands to help the country adapt to climate change.

It’s one of the world’s first efforts to integrate nature into water management on a national scale. It’s akin to the long-held attitude toward solar and wind power that is swiftly becoming outdated: they’re nice but were thought not to be capable of playing a major role in meeting our energy needs. Peru’s national programme, however, has the potential to demonstrate how effective slow water solutions can be when implemented on the scale of watersheds.

Read full article Why Peru is reviving a pre-Incan technology for water, published by the BBC.

Will There Be Resource Wars in a Renewable Future?

The Biden administration has announced a breakthrough target of 2035 for fully eliminating U.S. reliance on those non-renewable fuels for the generation of electricity.

That would be accomplished by “deploying carbon-pollution-free electricity-generating resources,” primarily the everlasting power of the wind and sun. With other nations moving in a similar direction, it’s tempting to conclude that the days when competition over finite supplies of energy was a recurring source of conflict will soon draw to a close.

Unfortunately, think again: while the sun and wind are indeed infinitely renewable, the materials needed to convert those resources into electricity — minerals like cobalt, copper, lithium, nickel, and the rare-earth elements, or REEs — are anything but. Some of them, in fact, are far scarcer than petroleum, suggesting that global strife over vital resources may not, in fact, disappear in the Age of Renewables.

Will There Be Resource Wars in a Renewable Future?, by Michael Klare, Tom Dispatch.

What to save? Climate Change Forces Brutal Choices at National Parks

By Zoe Schlanger

For more than a century, the core mission of the National Park Service has been preserving the natural heritage of the United States.

But now, as the planet warms, transforming ecosystems, the agency is conceding that its traditional goal of absolute conservation is no longer viable in many cases. Late last month the service published an 80-page document that lays out new guidance for park managers in the era of climate change.  The document, along with two peer-reviewed papers, is essentially a tool kit for the new world. It aims to help park ecologists and managers confront the fact that, increasingly, they must now actively choose what to save, what to shepherd through radical environmental transformation and what will vanish forever.

Read the full article.. What to Save? Climate Change Forces Brutal Choices at National Parks, published in the New York Times, May 18th 2021

A new Deadly Risk for Cities in Summer: Power Failures During Heat Waves

By Christopher Flavelle

The growing risk of overlapping heat waves and power failures poses a severe threat that major American cities are not prepared for, new research suggests.

Power failures have increased by more than 60 percent since 2015, even as climate change has made heat waves worse, according to the new research published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. Using computer models to study three large U.S. cities, the authors estimated that a combined blackout and heat wave would expose at least two-thirds of residents in those cities to heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

Read the full article A New, Deadly Risk for Cities in Summer: Power Failures During Heat Waves, published in the New York Times.


Omega Collaborative Webinar with Kim Stanley Robinson

Virtual Virtual Event

October 1 @ 9:00 am 10:00 am PDT


Hosted By Michael Lerner

In Collaboration with The Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere (MAHB),The Resilience Project (TRP), Foresight Analysis Nexus (FAN), The New School at Commonweal

Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Ministry for the Future” has received widespread acclaim. It has become a fundamental speculative fiction text for those interested in finding hope in climate change and the global polycrisis. Robinson imagines a heat spike in India that kills millions. The secretariat of the Paris Accord sets up a Ministry for the Future in Zurich and names an ex-Irish PM to head it . The story describes how she succeeds in stabilizing the climate.

Kim Stanley Robinson is an American science fiction writer. He is the author of more than twenty books, including the international bestselling Mars trilogy, and more recently Red Moon, New York 2140, Aurora, Shaman, Green Earth, and 2312. He was sent to the Antarctic by the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers’ Program in 1995 and returned in their Antarctic media program in 2016.

In 2008 he was named a “Hero of the Environment” by Time magazine. He works with the Sierra Nevada Research Institute, the Clarion Writers’ Workshop, and UC San Diego’s Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination. His work has been translated into 25 languages and won a dozen awards in five countries, including the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy awards. In 2016 asteroid 72432 was named “Kimrobinson.”

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