On Friday, Stanford University released a study by internationally prestigious scientists that declared planet Earth is well into the sixth mass extinction (Holocene). The report has charts and other references that indicate the fabric of the planet’s ecosystem is collapsing at an ever increasing rate. The report predicted the collapse would occur in about three human lifetimes (315 years+or-). The report further suggested that humans will be one of the earlier extinctions because of human dependence on so many environmental and specie services, e.g., naturally cleaned water, pollination by bees, and stable weather patterns for vegetation.

The mariner is befuddled that no television outlet grabbed this issue. If the reader hadn’t come across an article on a few websites, the reader would never know that extinction of Homo sapiens has become a statistical reality – near enough that today’s elementary school children will have their lives disrupted in significant if not fatal ways. Despite what the Bible says about Armageddon, it will not occur in one day. It will occur faster and faster over time. For the most part, symptoms will involve starvation, disease, economic collapse, vandalism and true anarchy as governments will not have the resources to quell the collapse of rule by law.

There is a book on this subject published recently by Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism versus the Climate. (The mariner’s town library has a copy as well as a copy of The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert). Klein has written several books on the subject of economic greed destroying the planet. Following is an excerpt from the New York Times book review for This Changes Everything:

“Klein diagnoses impressively what hasn’t worked. No more claptrap about fracked gas as a bridge to renewables. Enough already of the international summit meetings that produce sirocco-quality hot air, and nonbinding agreements that bind us all to more emissions. Klein dismantles the boondoggle that is cap and trade. She skewers grandiose command-and-control schemes to re-engineer the planet’s climate. No point, when a hubristic mind-set has gotten us into this mess, to pile on further hubris. She reserves a special scorn for the partnerships between Big Green organizations and Immense Carbon, peddled as win-win for everyone, but which haven’t slowed emissions. Such partnerships remind us that when the lamb and the lion lie down together, only one of them gets eaten.

In democracies driven by lobbyists, donors and plutocrats, the giant polluters are going to win while the rest of us, in various degrees of passivity and complicity, will watch the planet die. “Any attempt to rise to the climate challenge will be fruitless unless it is understood as part of a much broader battle of worldviews,” Klein writes. “Our economic system and our planetary system are now at war.”

The point is, there is a mountain of resistance to change – especially on capitalist philosophy and the ingrained demand for ever increasing profits. How long will it take Earth’s humans to break the most successful profit engine in history? The Mass Extinction report implies that everything must be corrected in two lifetimes to prevent full collapse of the environment.

The mariner includes one chart from the report that ties the development of the mass extinction, or conversely, the destruction of the global environment, back to the beginning of the industrial age.

extinct animals

An easy to read article is available at the following link:

As Naomi Klein pointed out (and Pogo), our own perceptions of what is good, better and best for each human, each of all species, and the planet environment itself, is a myth. We do not have a model of human behavior that matches the reality around us – nor will reality accept it. Yet, humans are delinquent and tardy in how they manage their own place on the planet.

How many years will it take for humans to eliminate arrogance and hubris and recognize that we are not the reason for the Earth to exist?

How many years will it take for core cultural values to recognize that Homo sapiens is not, by a high count, the superior species. We are more dependent on many other species than they are on us.

How many years will it take to dismantle capitalism and nationalism? If history serves correctly, once a nation has cured its unstable situation of war and abuse, it won’t be until the third generation thereafter before that nation will have leaders unscarred and unbiased in their decisions about national policy and culture.

The mariner will have more on the Holocene as matters develop. He presents only high level concepts and ideas in this post; he depends on the reader to pursue links and news sources that will add more substance to this issue.

Ancient Mariner

Red Brain, Blue Brain

The following information was published in the PLoS ONE journal on February 13, 2013:

“Red Brain, Blue Brain: Evaluative Processes Differ in Democrats and Republicans

Liberals and conservatives exhibit different cognitive styles and converging lines of evidence suggest that biology influences differences in their political attitudes and beliefs. In particular, a recent study of young adults suggests that liberals and conservatives have significantly different brain structure, with liberals showing increased gray matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, and conservatives showing increased gray matter volume in the in the amygdala.

Here, we explore differences in brain function in liberals and conservatives by matching publicly-available voter records to 82 subjects who performed a risk-taking task…. Although the risk-taking behavior of Democrats (liberals) and Republicans (conservatives) did not differ, their brain activity did. Democrats showed significantly greater activity in the left insula, while Republicans showed significantly greater activity in the right amygdala….. These results suggest that liberals and conservatives engage different cognitive processes when they think about risk, and the results support recent evidence that conservatives show greater sensitivity to threatening stimuli….. Conversely, liberals had stronger responses to situations of cognitive conflict than conservatives.”

Red brain art

The mariner apologizes for the scientific journal lingo – rather dry reading. He will paraphrase while contemplating what this means in the world of politics and beliefs in general. His comments easily can be interpreted too literally; the reader should consider the mariner’s informal interpretations as parables.

Republicans orient attention to external cues. What this means is Republicans find it less important to understand how they feel inside; more important is their control of potential risk outside.

On the other hand, Democrats orient attention to perceptions of internal feelings – how they feel about the external cues. This orientation also borders the temporal-parietal junction, and may reflect the perceptions of internal feeling and motivation in others as well.

Now the reader has a clear and firm understanding of the difference between a Republican and a Democrat. The mariner perceives this may not be true. Let’s take a real example but remember that simply saying something for clarity may be overstated and may not be wholly true in the first place.

Republicans are good managers because they are risk averse. Republicans are sensitive to anything that blocks their range of decisions in dealing with risk. Therefore, Republicans do not like labor unions because labor unions have the ability to limit what the Republican may want to do regarding job profiles and salary – risk-laden issues in any business. This does not mean Democrats aren’t good managers, too. Remember the statement in the journal lingo: “Although the risk-taking behavior of Democrats (liberals) and Republicans (conservatives) did not differ….” In other words, a good manager will deal with risk appropriately – liberal or conservative.

The Democrat manager, however, is sensitive to his/her feelings about jobs and salary and, because the temporal-parietal junction is nearby, empathy may play a role in how the risk is perceived. As long as labor unions play by fair rules, the Democrat is more likely to accept why being in a union is important to the employees’ perception of risk.

How are we doing? Maybe one more example. But to keep it simple, no elected government folks are allowed:

Bah, Humbug! People have nothing to do with global warming! Republican or Democrat? We don’t really know for certain but several surveys show that this is a Republican. Global warming is nothing if it is not constrictive, behavioral (the right amygdala doesn’t know about behavioral) and interferes with profit strategies across the board. A Republican would run from the restrictive regulations that cure global warming. The same is true of the fossil fuel industry, the banking industry and a myriad of other corporate interests that do not want to be curtailed in their decision making regarding risk to profit.

What is the future of humanity if it all boils down to Left Posterial Insula versus right amygdala?

Ancient Mariner

Sixth Extinction

When the mariner was about twelve, he was reading one of his father’s textbooks that had a chapter on Thomas Malthus, a British economist who, in 1798, said that population growth would be destructive and would be the end of the human species. Being impressionable at that age, the mariner never forgot that warning. He has not thought about Malthus for a while but has always been aware of the impact of overcrowding on the earth in general and on the human race in particular.

Malthus based his prediction on the fact that population was a geometric growth pattern (1,2,4,8,16..…) and food sources grew arithmetically (1,2,3,4,5…..). Eventually, he reasoned, people would die of starvation. Among several opinions about how to control human population, the most memorable was to increase the death rate. Little did he know that science would not shorten lives but would extend them; now, on the horizon, people will live greatly prolonged lives. Further, science would boost food production to keep up with population growth.

All this came back to mind when Elizabeth Kolbert was interviewed on television. She is the author of a new book titled The Sixth Extinction, An Unnatural History. (Henry Holt & Company). Readers may be able to watch the interview on Jon Stuart’s webpage,

The title derives from the fact that five great extinctions have occurred in the history of living things on Planet Earth. Most know about a meteorite that hit Earth in Mexico and ended the era of dinosaurs. Check Wikipedia or search “five great extinctions” for more information. Kolbert portends that humans are the cause of the sixth great extinction.

The book is drawn from scientific research and trips around the world with experts on climate, oceanography, ecology, animal and plant specialists and others who study living things and their habitats.

To make a detailed analysis brief, Kolbert’s point is that our species once existed only on the plains of Africa and now has spread to every spot on Earth, that is, every habitat of every plant, animal, fish, invertebrate, bacteria, and has altered every single ecosystem. The result of this overpopulation, especially by a species that is extremely high maintenance in its use of food, space, materials and energy, is that tens of thousands of species are falling into extinction on a continuous basis.

Not only are there so many humans that other species are crowded out (cities and sensitive estuaries filled in for the benefit of real estate development to name two), humans are a dirty and careless bunch. Humans are the cause of innumerable destructions of habitat by deliberately invading them (farming and river dams to name just two). Humans carry diseases that kill not only humans but other plant and animal life as well, spew chemical damage into every habitat on Earth, and alter climates to such a massive degree that animals from whales and polar bears to tiny fish, bees, coral species and plant life over the entire Earth are dying or being deliberately killed.

We are an uncaring lot. However, what goes around comes around. No longer can our profit be measured solely by spreadsheets and bottom line profit and loss. We are undermining ourselves day by day, even as the riverbank slowly gives way to its river. Is life in the matrix* our future, where robotic life forms are the only survivors?

Malthus would be horrified.

Ancient Mariner

*reference to movie The Matrix, where humans live unknowingly in a matrix of coffin-like life support units and are used as batteries to generate electric power for a lifeless robot reality.

A Blissful Place

Like many of you, the mariner feels a need to respond to greater tragedies in the world. However, there are two points to be made. First, he will solve not one great tragedy no matter how hard he tries. Second, No matter how much the mariner learns through personal education about a great tragedy, his knowledge inflames only his own soul.

A similar opinion is reflected in a few responses to posts. The mariner must agree with the general premise. True, he will not live long enough to see many great tragedies resolved – if they ever will be resolved. So find something pleasant to do until he dies.

However, a look backward through written history shows that tragedies have been overcome not by one or two powerful individuals but by hoards of people who took matters into their own hands. Discounting the contributions of science and technology, this has been the case most of the time. Further, no set of population has agreed to the last person that a given premise is absolute. Without elaborating, freedom marches could not have occurred with Martin Luther King alone. He had a few companions. Also note that both racism and “paid” slavery still abound. Still, the freedom movement made changes to American culture. One must, over the millennia, take one step at a time.

Occupy America and Tea Party movements are more evidence that it takes more than one person’s angst to change culture. To quote a great American phrase, “E Pluribus Unum.” It takes one hundred pennies to make a dollar. Consider yourself a penny – can’t make a dollar without you. To be more absolute about individual responsibility, be a citizen who votes – a power for change few citizens have had in history. 48 percent of eligible Americans do not vote. The mariner would recommend voting in caucuses and primaries as well. Further, when was the last time you shared your opinion with an elected representative?

The counterpoint is made. Yet, there is truth in the first paragraph. This modern age requires more than a millstone and corn to make breakfast. Although each of us is only one person, we as individuals are super-engaged in every level of local, national and global society. Our lifestyle is dependent on every level of local, national and global society. Our personal lives face daily confrontations that simpler times did not require. Further, in simpler times, tasks generally did not require much stress on the deeper machinations of our personalities.

In the United States, given a few exceptions for the wealthy and starving artists, having a job most of our life is an absolute requirement for survival. That means working steadily all day five days a week (a fairly recent limitation created by collective bargaining – but I digress). It means doing more than that if one needs to assure job security and lasting success. Virtually every job is stressful because time, not our own, is of the essence.

In the United States, children and parents and grandparents and cousins and friends disburse all over the world, leaving less of an envelope of unspoken comfort and protection. It is both blessing and curse in our American culture. As we have moved from an agricultural society to a post-industrial, technology driven society, a new festival has emerged – the family reunion. Used to be every day was a family reunion, though too much of a good thing can sometimes be too much. The mariner is reminded of a good friend he knew during the 1960’s. The friend said, “Never been more than 54 miles from home.” Queried about why, he said he never felt the need. He was an older farmer; he and his wife had four generations of family nearby.

So while we are more involved in our society than ever before, we tend to find less in the way of curative family and friend activities. In effect, were it not for a spouse, a great many individuals literally would live more than a day’s travel to a family member. Those without family or spouse emotionally have a harder life and tend to shape their lives in a way that guarantees curative time with friends and in solace.

The Western World is captivated by the noise and innovation of democratic capitalism. We tend to forget the healing aspects of religions that never experienced a Puritan-driven reformation, never heard of James Smith or John Maynard Keynes. One of my favorite anthropologists, Joseph Campbell often spoke of the need for each of us to have a blissful place. His definition of bliss was for religious purpose as well as emotional. Nevertheless, it takes training to sustain a blissful place. Perhaps that is why yoga and new age movements are growing in popularity – these movements reflect a need solved long ago in Hinduism and Buddhism – two religions that never faced western influence until the world grew too small. Still, as religions, they do not fare well in Western culture. Find solace in Pilates or Tai-Chi.

The mariner concedes we need solace. He also advocates that the world needs our constant attention because of human, chemical, planetary, and equality dynamics – but he digresses.

Ancient Mariner