Black-eyed Angels

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I jumped in the river, what did I see?
Black-eyed angels swam with me
A moon full of stars and astral cars
And all the figures I used to see

All my lovers were there with me
All my past and futures
And we all went to heaven in a little row boat
There was nothing to fear and nothing to doubt

Text: Pyramid Song, Radiohead.

Image: What the world would look like if all the ice melted, National Geographic.

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Any Imaginable Future

“…New research […] shows that a major ice age was narrowly missed just before the industrial revolution , probably because the development of agriculture had nudged the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere just above the tipping point.

“The bottom line is we are basically skipping a whole glacial cycle, which is unprecedented,” said Andrey Ganopolski, at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany and who led the research. “It is mind-boggling that humankind is able to interfere with a mechanism that shaped the world as we know it.”

Floating Icebergs under Cloudy Skies, 1859
Frederic Church, Floating Icebergs Under Cloudy Skies. June or July 1859.

“Like no other force on the planet, ice ages have shaped the global environment and thereby determined the development of human civilisation,” Schellnhuber said. “Now human interference is acting as a huge geological force, so this is a defining paper for the Anthropocene idea.” If carbon emissions are not restricted, he said, they could end the million-year-long period of ice age cycles altogether.

Michel Crucifix, at the Université catholique de Louvain in Belgium and not involved in the new research, said: “It reinforces previous assessments asserting that humanity’s collective footprint on Earth already extends beyond any imaginable future of our society.”

“Such long-term consequences may seem surprising, given that the emissions will occur over a few centuries at most,” he said. “In fact, the mean half-life of CO2 in the atmosphere is of the order of 35,000 years. Consequently, anthropogenic CO2 will still be in the atmosphere in 50,000 years’ time, and even 100,000 years, which is enough to prevent any glaciation.”

Text: Damian Carrington, Fossil fuel burning ‘postponing next ice age’, Guardian Australia

Accumulated Surplus

“A new study sponsored by Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilisation could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.

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“[The study] finds that according to the historical record even advanced, complex civilisations are susceptible to collapse, raising questions about the sustainability of modern civilisation:

“The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent.”

“By investigating the human-nature dynamics of these past cases of collapse, the project identifies the most salient interrelated factors which explain civilisational decline, and which may help determine the risk of collapse today: namely, Population, Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Energy.

“These factors can lead to collapse when they converge to generate two crucial social features: “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity”; and “the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or “Commoners”) [poor]” These social phenomena have played “a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse,” in all such cases over “the last five thousand years.”

Currently, high levels of economic stratification are linked directly to overconsumption of resources, with “Elites” based largely in industrialised countries responsible for both:

“… accumulated surplus is not evenly distributed throughout society, but rather has been controlled by an elite. The mass of the population, while producing the wealth, is only allocated a small portion of it by elites, usually at or just above subsistence levels.”

Text: Nasa-funded study: industrial civilisation headed for ‘irreversible collapse’? The Guardian.