Mother Pelican
A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability

Vol. 13, No. 1, January 2017
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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Integral Human Development in an Explosive Planet


"Only when the last tree has been cut down,
only when the last river has been poisoned,
only when the last fish has been caught,
only then will you learn that money cannot be eaten."
-- Plains Sioux Proverb

The new year 2017 marks the 5th centenary of the Lutheran reformation, a pivotal event that, by coinciding with the expansion of European civilization, had consequences that continue to unfold in Christian churches and human civilization worldwide. It also marks the ascendancy of an opportunistic demagogue to the presidency of the United Sates of America. This is not an isolated event. Just as the Lutheran reformation was a reaction to institutional elites seeking money, power, and honors, the Trumpian phenomenon is a reaction to similar institutional elites in today's global community of nations. As in 1517, the "reformer" comes from the elites of religion, this time the new "religion" of neoliberal capitalism based on the delusion of infinite demographic/economic growth in a finite planet. There are many perverse "economic growth" feedback loops, such as:

1. Corporations in the richer countries lobby for "free trade" agreements
2. Same corporations lobby elites in the poorer countries
3. Same corporations export jobs/operations to the poorer countries
4. Same corporations exploit workers/resources in the poorer countries
5. Same corporations then bring the products to sell in the richer countries
6. Those who can buy what they sell, and the corporations make big money
7. Back to step 1, to keep "economic growth" going

Trumpism is a side effect, due to many people excluded from step 6. Current trends such as rising international terrorism, growing inequality, massive migration, and the ecological crisis, as well as events such as Brexit and the Trumpian "reformation," are but symptoms of a global civilization that is cracking at the seams, socially and ecologically, making the entire planet explosive as the patriarchal phase of human history comes to an end. As Pope Francis wrote in Laudato Si' #114, "All of this shows the urgent need for us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution." Let us pray and work for a cultural revolution that seeks integral human development, and an integral ecology, rather than hate mongering and any form of violence driven by delusions of grandeur.

Chinese proverb: “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”


Editorial Essay: There is No Point of No Return, by Jada Thacker

Trump: The Illusion of Change, by Helena Norberg-Hodge

Beyond Trump: The Path to Real Change, by Richard Heinberg and Helena Norberg-Hodge

The Macabre Petroleum Waltz of Trump and Putin, by Andrew Nikiforuk

Drowning the World in Oil: Trump's Carbon-Obsessed Energy Policy and the Planetary Nightmare to Come, by Michael Klare

Can We Save The World?, by Tormod Burkey

Saving the World: How Do We Get Things Done?, by Tormod Burkey

Own Cuba - Don't Sell Her, by Carmine Gorga

Commons: A Frame for Thinking Beyond Growth, by Ann Marie Utratel and Silke Helfrich

Unwinding the Human Predicament: Part 4 - A social contract exists that creates the forces in Part 3, by Jack Alpert

Gigantic Crises Demand Out-of-the-Box Solutions, by John Howe

Capitalism Is Doomed — Without Alternatives, So Are We, by Jake Johnson

Why the Peak Oil Movement Failed, by John Michael Greer

There is Only One Culture: Bringing Back Science into the Fold of Humanism, by Ugo Bardi

The Struggle Continues for a Binding Treaty to Stop Corporate Abuse, by Adam Parsons

The Case for Sharing and Hope in 2017, by Editorial Staff, Sharing the World Resources

True Freedom Comes With Basic Income, by Scott Santens

Book Review of Robert Jensen's "The End of Patriarchy", by Luis Gutierrez

Justice and Empowerment for Women is Justice and Empowerment for Men Too, by Domnic Misolo


Advances in Sustainable Development

Directory of Sustainable Development Resources

Strategies for Solidarity and Sustainability

Best Practices for Solidarity and Sustainability

Fostering Gender Balance in Society

Fostering Gender Balance in Religion

Meditations on Man and Woman, Humanity and Nature


There is No Point of No Return

Jada Thacker

January 2017

The alarm has been sounded that planet Earth is speeding "beyond a point of no return" regarding the atmospheric accumulation of greenhouse gases (GHG), which are cited by the scientific community as the cause for anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Carbon dioxide, for example, is estimated to have increased from 280 to 400 parts per million (ppm) from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in 1750 to the present. The implication for disastrous climate change and sea level rise is clear.

In the drama of the moment, one is reminded of old World War II movies. Under attack, a crippled submarine plunges into the depths, with sweat-stained captain and crew hypnotized by the clock face of the fathometer. As lights flicker and seawater gushes in, the needle edges ever closer to the fatal crush depth…280…350…400….

Should we today stand like those terrified, sweat-stained mariners, fixated upon a climate-change needle veering "beyond the point of no return"?

No, we should not.

The disaster facing humanity does not involve going "beyond" a fictitious future "point of no return," but in returning to a very real point of ecological balance biologists call "carrying capacity" – or the ability of the environment to sustain any population of a given size indefinitely. Unlike AGW, carrying capacity is not a point beyond which humanity dare not tread, but a point we marched past quite some time ago.

Humans have existed on the planet for about 200,000 years. In the last 1/1000th amount of that time, we have increased our population – mostly by using fossil fuels to increase human food production – seven times over. As a species, we are now using half again the amount of energy resources available to sustain current population levels indefinitely. Put another way, the Earth’s energy resources would need to be 50% greater than they are to sustain our present population at current rates of energy consumption.

But wait. That implies that humans are using more energy than is available. How can that be?

We have all heard a story about somebody who won the lottery, squandered the money, and died broke. That is not just a story. That is history. Humans won a fossil fuel lottery and spent it on what we please to call the Industrial Revolution. We did not do so because we are geniuses; we did it because we are pyromaniacs, who burn coal, petroleum and natural gas as fast as we can get our hands on the stuff.

Of course, our pyromania produced GHG emissions, but that’s not all. As GHG emissions began to rise, so did human food production and population, as we literally burned through our fossil fuel lottery winnings. Winning the fossil fuel lottery is what temporarily increased the Earth’s carrying capacity, not human technical ingenuity, and certainly not industrial capitalism – both of which were invented to exploit energy resources, not to conserve them.

The foreshortened history of current human population will not be measured by ppm of greenhouse gases, but by the millions of barrels per day (mbd) of conventional – meaning "affordable" – crude oil we continuously withdraw from a depleting geological energy savings bank. And we must not overlook that depletion of affordable petroleum is proportional to the depletion of affordable human food production.

As predicted, the global extraction of conventional crude oil peaked in 2005. Since then, the slight increase in world liquid energy extraction has been due to extremely expensive – and ultimately unaffordable – non-conventional sources such as oil sands, deep offshore, and shale oil formations.

During our fossil-fueled population explosion, we burned through half of all existing conventional liquid energy resources. At current rates of global consumption (33 billion barrels per year), we will burn the remaining affordable oil (1.2 trillion barrels) in about 36 years – roughly the amount of time required for a new American homeowner to pay off a home mortgage.

It does not appear we need to hyperventilate about ppm of GHG blowing past a future "point of no return." We blew past Earth’s fossil fuel carrying capacity about the same time we started building the American Interstate Highway system in the mid-1950s – since which time we have consumed over 90% of all the world’s extracted petroleum.

The energy/food connection is simple: human lives depend on environmental carrying capacity; carrying capacity depends upon oil consumption; oil consumption depends on affordable oil extraction. And we ran out of that about a decade ago.

Humans discover oil resources all the time. But we currently burn about 4 barrels for each 1 barrel discovered. And most of the new discoveries are too expensive to extract. Oil, at today’s "collapsed" prices is already more than twice as expensive than its average inflation-adjusted price since we began drilling for it. Thus, today’s "low" oil prices do not represent an oversupply of the stuff, but the fact that the world’s growing population collectively can no longer afford to pay the price required to get an extra barrel of it out of the ground.

Lack of affordable, horrible GHG-emitting energy resources is going to kill most of us who depend upon an industrialized food supply – and very much sooner than their destruction of an otherwise convenient climate. While humanity could conceivably adapt to global warming, we cannot conceivably adapt to unaffordable industrial liquid energy resources.

Why liquid fossil fuel energy is increasingly unaffordable is a complex subject, but has virtually nothing to do with global warming. And while the development of alternative, so-called sustainable electric energy extraction such as wind and solar may be desirable, it is not sufficient to maintain industrialized agriculture. Human food supply is not critically dependent upon the availability of expensive clean energy, but upon cheap dirty energy – and a lot of it.

There is no need to sound the alarm that planet Earth will soon go "beyond the point of no return." The Earth is not going beyond anything. The Earth – which ancient texts and tribal lore agree endures forever – is merely returning humanity to the carrying capacity from whence it came.

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