Today was one of those good news, bad news, sagas.

Good news that the wind is finally dropping.

Bad news that at the very same time I ran into an adverse current, and without the wind to help me, I am going backwards.

Good news is that the ocean is becoming calmer so I can engage the oars better.

Bad news is that my shoulders are still feeling the after-effects of my mishap a week ago, so I can’t row as strongly as I would like.

Good news that I was listening to a fascinating, well-written, well-researched book, and I agree with the author’s conclusions.

Bad news is that the book was Bill McKibben’s “Eaarth, which describes how we human beings have altered our planet to the extent that it is becoming unable to support civilization as we know it. To an already marginally unhappy rower, this maybe wasn’t the ideal reading matter to uplift the spirits.

Eaarth keys into last week’s Philosophy Friday post, and some of the comments that resulted. Rico and Michael – I think you, especially, would find Eaarth an interesting read if you haven’t read it already.

We seem to be rather spoiled for choice as to just what might cause the downfall of human civilization. Rico is going for “global economic collapse”. Bill McKibben is going for climate change. And there is a multitude of other possibilities, many of which have been the subject of books I have listened to recently, mostly fiction, but none the less convincing for that. How about this list for starters?

– worldwide plague (The Brief History of the Dead“, or The City, Not Long After“)
– dramatic decline in fertility (that PD James book – is it The Children of Men“?)
– catastrophic wipeout of all technology, possibly as a result of a solar flare (Dies the Fire)
– or maybe a GMO with a terminator gene running rampant leading to major food shortages
– or a superbug resistant to all known antibiotics
– or even aliens resembling Keanu Reeves coming to save Earth by wiping out humanity (was it The Day The Earth Stood Still, or The Day After Tomorrow? – they all start sounding alike)
– or all kinds of 2012 theories

For me personally – and I take the state of the planet very personally – I fully expect to see significant changes within my lifetime. I already have. I was born just before the end of 1967. In that year we had 322 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere. There were 3.5 billion people on the planet. As I write this, at the age of 43 in 2011, we have close to 390 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, and there are nearly 7 billion people on the planet. By the time I am nearing the end of my life (say), aged 82 in 2050, who knows? 43 years ago scientists would not have predicted our current situation (although the Club of Rome came close). From where we are now, we cannot accurately predict what we will face in 2050. We can only hope that our present rate of exponential growth does not continue. That would mean the kind of world that I would not be happy to live in. Overcrowded, hot, with intense competition for increasingly scarce resources.

Something’s gotta give. It is time we became our better selves – the mature, wise, evolved beings who understand it is worth sacrificing immediate gain for long-term survival.

We have a choice to make. We can recognize the seriousness of our situation, accept responsibility for our past mistakes, and take the tough, even humiliating, but essential decisions needed to ensure our continued existence. Or we can continue to be distracted by the very same man-made artifices that got us into this mess in the first place – the all-conquering supremacy of high finance, rampant consumerism, and the myth of infinite economic growth – until we have dithered and procrastinated so long that we end up doing too little, too late (if it’s not already).

I have some notions on the feasibility of such a seemingly miraculous shift in consciousness. But I’ll save those for Friday.

Ah, nothing like a bit of global catastrophe to cheer me up at the end of a hard day….

Other Stuff:

From global catastrophe to minor personal catastrophe. I found today that my Larabar locker has leaked. This locker is beneath the sleeping cabin and has always been as dry as a bone. I cannot for the life of me figure out how water has got in there. Can water penetrate an intact carbon fibre hull?!

Latest podcast now live at Roz Roams: Anfangen Sind Schwer (German saying, meaning “beginnings are hard”)

Will Stockland – great to hear from you. Hope to see you next time I am in Oxford for some in-person debate over a glass or two of vino.

Pippa – good news! On further investigation I discovered that the pillow itself is not mouldy – just the pillowcase and the white pillow cover. I have washed them as best I can, so they should at least smell better.

Pam Longobardi – the ocean would certainly have a right to be angry with us. I just wish he/she wouldn’t take it out on me! 🙂 Keep up the great work you are doing for the oceans.

Geoff and Janet – 25 knots? Is that all?! Wusses! It’s been 25-30 around here for the last 10 days. Today was the first day I didn’t have to stick my nose right into my porridge mug to stop my food blowing away en route from mug to mouth. Glad you’ve been having a great time. Sail safe and enjoy!

Quote for today: “Prosperity is only an instrument to be used, not a deity to be worshipped.” (Calvin Coolidge)

Photo: logo from 2009’s “Pull Together” initiative in the run-up to Copenhagen’s COP15 conference

Sponsored Miles:
On a day when Roz has been carried by a current in the wrong direction, thanks go to Steven Huysseune to encourage some forward progress, and to Matt Ellis and family, who contributed so that Roz and her mother can talk for a bit longer on the phone tomorrow.

21 Comments

  • You forgot robots taking over the planet (the Matrix, Terminator, etc.). Although the performances in the robot world cup that is happening at the moment have reassured me that this danger is still some way off!

  • In the long distant past war and famine maintained the world’s human population – held it in check. Now, with less death from war and better food production, the world’s population has soared. So, how many people should we not feed (or kill) to maintain the current population? Should we start more bloody wars? Who chooses which population needs to die to make room for the rest of us?
    The famine in Africa where a million have died is too small to stop the population growth, should we widen the famine? Of course not. We are stuck with a growing population. In 2050 the population of the earth is anticipated to be over 9 billion. Unless we get a plague or something that cannot be stopped as you suggest, we have a big problem on our hands. Science will help, but we have little time to make major changes to accommodate a third person where two are now (can you fit another person on your boat?)  🙂   We will need to feed the new huge population, find water for them and take care of their wastes.
    Land that is currently used to provide food will be used to provide them homes. Less and less land will be available to provide half again as much food! If we get 10 bushels of grain from an acre of land currently, and we lose half of that acre for housing, we will not be able to feed half of our current population – that would be interesting – who would make the needed changes? People would be demanding something be done! How would you solve it? Demand contraception in rapidly growing populations? Let people starve?
    What science is providing us with is genetically modified seeds that can produce 15 bushels of grain from the remaining half acre of land available, enough to prevent famine. Is anyone suggesting that we let people starve when we can (with GM food) save them? Those are our choices in my mind, modify what we have or die. Yes there are risks, but the rewards are continued life for humans.

    • Maybe there should be some sort of genetic test that could be use to screen fetuses to select environmentally sensitive people. I’ve never understood why people think they are doing good when they inoculate children against deadly diseases when in reality they are upsetting the balance of nature.  AIDS was working for awhile but then new drugs were developed that are effective in slowing if not stopping the disease.

    • To me, it is inconceivable that we humans will continue the current paradigm. I believe we will collectively self-limit progeneration, or there will be a collapse of some sort. In addition to Eaarth, I highly recommend Gus Speth’s book about our unsustainable economic paradigm “The Bridge at the Edge of the World” … http://bit.ly/eh5jIy
      which is available in a shorter version as a lecture he gave in January 2010 http://bit.ly/CHN_Lecture “A New American Environmentalism and the New Economy” — the 23-page pdf can be downloaded free at http://bit.ly/GusNewEco

    • Yes well, there is another solution. That of educating women, and supporting global family planning. Sounds like the pope (Pope?) is about to get on board.

      Over the next 150 years, Earth or Eaarth will experience a population reduction to a sustainable level of 2 or 3 billion (or pick your number under 5). The cool thing is is that it COULD happen by attrition since everyone alive today will be dead then. (Probably, maybe). In the last decade we have actually learned how to do this. It’s not an apocalypse, it’s an adventure!

      Roz, Eaarth is great, but probably not a good choice for extended isolation…… videos? Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein?

  • I’m glad about the pillow, Roz. When do you find time to do any washing!!!

    BTW – the Australian govt. has announced a carbon tax for the top 500 polluting campanies. Starts in July 2012 at A$23 per tonne.

    (Sending stern looks towards the current in the hope that the ocean will be better behaved tomorrow.) 

  • JohnH’s analysis is interesting, but it draws this distinction between “we” and “them” …the “haves” and “have nots” perhaps? The distinction brings to mind the old cartoon character Pogo (Walt Kelly) stating “we have met the enemy and he is us”…we are all in the same boat. We need to change… huge change in the way we live needs to be encouraged, cultures are going to have to change, religions that deny the reproductive rights of women are going to have change…constant drive towards growth needs to reverse course…that’s an economic reality that most people cant’ fathom…stasis.

    As hard as change is its better than the alternative if we don’t. My kids generation will be scrambling for solutions…

    Lead by example and push gently but relentlessly and it may happen…

    Thanks for leading Roz. 

  • Hey Roz . . . sorry to hear your Larabar locker is now damp and that you’re on a current that wants to push you backwards.  🙁

    For the more radical viewpoint on the situation with “Civilization,” the planet, and climate you might want to check out yet another of Derrick Jensen’s books — “Endgame Vol.1 – The problem of Civilization”  and also “Endgame Vol.2 – Resistance.”
    In the first book he details how we’ve deluded ourselves into thinking we can go blithely on our way distracting ourselves from the realities that stare us in the face.  Where people once got all they needed from the landbase around their villages we now need to import food and resources into our cities from far away.  We have become divorced from our connections to the land that provides our sustenance with the result that we think nothing of destroying it expecting that we can just find another (distant) supply of food and resources to to use and then destroy.

    the second book is his analysis of what to do . . . how to resist “civilization” and move in the direction of once more being in harmony with our surroundings.

    Best . . . 

    ~ Cynthia

  • -could the moisture be from a collection of condensation given the humidity and enclosure of your cabin?
     
    “When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse.” -Paul Hawken (Blessed Unrest and WiserEarth)
     
    “What sets wilderness apart in the modern day is not that it’s dangerous (it’s almost certainly safer than any town or road) or that it’s solitary (you can, so they say, be alone in a crowded room) or full of exotic animals (there are more at the zoo). It’s that five miles out in the woods you can’t buy anything.” — Bill McKibben (The Age of Missing Information) btw neither author mentions an ocean as a place or ocean rowing as an activity.
     You are *A*m*A*z*I*n*G*!* Keep Rowing! Row Roz Row!http://ellen.warnerbros.com/show/respond/?PlugID=433

  • I wish that Roz could see the video about saving a whale!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBYPlcSD490&feature=share
    The Whale Conservancy really has to be congratulated on this one. They were out in a small boat and came across a whale about to die. The whale had a huge fish net wrapped around it from tail to it’s fins. It could hardly move. They took a small knife and worked on cutting the net. Once the whale was freed it gave them the most amazing thank you show!!!!!

    • That’s one you mustn’t miss, Roz. Make a note to watch it when you can.

      (I once saved a sheep from a broken barbed wire fence but nobody filmed it, and the sheep just wandered off afterwards doing one of the only two things that sheep do.)

  • Continuous strong wind, wild seas and invasive damp – how do you manage to remain so lucid and coherent?

    My childhood was spent reading a number of ‘end of the world’ type books, and they added an edge to the potential future – but perhaps they dulled my mind to the potential for one or more of the multitude of potentially apocolyptic outcomes to actually eventuate?

    There is not much that is new in the world, and fear of the end of it seems to have been around for as long as our recorded history. Accidental nomenclature becomes mixed with superstitions and this inbuilt expectation that our world will end to bring about fiasco’s such as the Y2K bug terror, which was a repeat of the year 1,000 fears a millenia previously.

    The rough looking street character wearing a sandwich board proclaiming the end of the world has become a recognisable icon. Perhaps all of these proclivities have caused we in the developed world to be a little jaded over announcements of devastation and deluge?

    And maybe there is an issue that we don’t ponder all that much – the issue of a developed world with predominantly lower than replacement birthrates, contrasted with the ‘underdeveloped world’ with much higher birthrates. This could, and likely would, lead to claims of Colonialism or domination by capitalist/wealthy nations or ambitions to deprive the multitudes of what the few have managed to gain in the last few hundred years (with the argument following that much of this was gained by slavery or stealing land or resources from indigenous peoples).

    So much to ponder on these issues.

    Keep up the good work!

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