Thirsty Invaders, Chasing Heat

by Manuel García, Jr.

July 19, 2004   


(Swans - July 19, 2004)  Rainless winters of bitter cold, rivers and lakes shriveled to muddy traces by ceaseless wind; once rich topsoil now a permanent atmospheric haze; and still the wars go on, year after year, to load the oil ships half a world away -- in Arabia and Venezuela -- to keep them coming despite oil field attacks, the sabotage of pipelines crossing jungles and deserts, and the pirate raids on the high seas. Our people are shivering and thirsty, chasing the heat. Here, our Navy pushes back the pathetic invasions and massive refugee streams from Caribbean islands washed into featureless mud by relentless hurricanes, and our Army pushes into northern Mexico to secure the rights of millions of our citizens living there, so we say, but in truth to capture warmer, well-watered territory into which so much of our nation has fled. Power, people and land have all become disconnected from each other in this new world of dry cold, and all pretense has evaporated as all empathy has chilled; starving masses overrun once powerful nations, like tides of Army Ants; and no one ever takes prisoners. Dramatic fantasy or reasonable possibility?

The Next Enemy: Climate Change

The Earth's atmosphere has been warming at the rate of +0.03 °C/year since 1975, a result of the rapid accumulation of heat-retaining carbon dioxide gas (CO2), which is an exhaust product of our combustion-powered industrial metabolism, feeding on fossil hydrocarbon fuel. This heating rate is unprecedented in the last thousand years. Global warming from the end of the 19th century to 1975 was +0.4 °C, by 2000 it was +1 °C; and if the present trend continues it will be +2 °C by 2028, and +3 °C by 2062. (1)

Does this matter? Greater atmospheric heat means that evaporation is faster, perhaps making certain regions dryer; but it also means a wetter atmosphere, so probably more rainfall and more lush vegetation elsewhere. If these effects evolve gradually over this new century, why worry?

The question was put to independent researchers Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall by the US Department of Defense, always projecting into the future to detect any potential enemy. This is a matter of good planning and self-interest. The military services like to know what forces and hazards they may be called upon to face, and they also like to have compelling arguments to lobby Congress for more money. The Schwartz-Randall report for the Pentagon caused a sensation upon its public release, both because of the seriousness with which it accepted and addressed climate change -- so at odds with the pro-corporate dismissiveness by the Bush administration -- and because of the bleakness and imminence of its projections. It shows what might happen in a worst-case scenario. The report is well-written, highly recommended, and easily available. The authors conclude that abrupt climate change may "challenge United States national security in ways that should be considered immediately." (2)

The Schwartz-Randall report points to the abrupt onset of a significantly colder, dryer climate in the Northern Hemisphere as the most perilous possible consequence of global warming up to about 2010. The cooling that might occur could be like the century-long period 8,200 years ago with temperature 5 °F (2.8 °C) colder, or the 13 century-long period 12,700 years ago with temperature 27 °F (15 °C) colder. The shift to colder climate could occur as rapidly as 5 °F (2.8 °C) of cooling per decade. So, the world could plunge into a new Ice Age within a period of twenty years.

Thermohaline Cycle And Abrupt Climate Change

The mechanism deemed most likely to cause an abrupt shift to colder climate is a change in the circulation pattern of ocean currents that convey heat and salt: the thermohaline cycle. (3)
In this thousand-year cycle, water from the surface in tropical areas becomes more saline through evaporation. When it circulates to the poles and becomes cold ("thermo"), the greater density still present from higher salt ("haline") concentration causes the water to sink to great depths. As with most large-scale geological processes, the thermohaline cycle is not thoroughly understood. Wallace Broecker has been studying the cycle for decades and, according to the December 1996 issue of Discover magazine, he has shown that the thermohaline cycle has not always been in operation, and that it has a strong effect on global climate. (4)
This cycle is a conveyor belt of heat from the equator to the poles, sustaining our present climates. It is the heat of the Caribbean carried north by the Gulf Stream along the eastern coast of North America and across the North Atlantic from Newfoundland to Ireland that warms Europe, so that London at 52° north latitude has a climate similar to, perhaps Philadelphia at 40° north latitude, instead of Calgary in Canada or Amchitka Island in the Bering Sea, also at 52° north. Maps and graphical representations and descriptions of the thermohaline cycle are available on Internet web pages. (5)

Cold fresh water is denser than warm fresh water (liquids). Warm water can hold a higher concentration of dissolved salt than cold water. Both cold and salinity increase the density of seawater, however a warm salty sample might have the same density as a cold fresher sample. The densest water in the oceans is in the North Atlantic, where salty tropical water is cooled without loss of salinity (no precipitation). The sinking of this cold dense mass drives the thermohaline cycle.

The sinking force of dense salty water pushes the fluid ahead of it through the cold depths, from high latitudes toward the tropics, and there, warmed to lower density, it rises into warm shallow currents circling the globe along equatorial latitudes. If this cycle collapses, tropical warmth will not flow north to the latitudes of Western Europe and the United States, and the climatic cooling described by Schwartz and Randall will quickly set in.

Global warming can trigger this abrupt climate change by melting the polar ice caps so that cold water of low salinity flows toward the equator, diluting the thermohaline cycle -- for example in the North Atlantic south of Greenland -- and the now more buoyant and colder stream remains on the surface rather than sinking. After the cycle collapses, the polar regions will chill, re-icing and extending the area under ice to lower latitudes. A larger proportion of the Earth's water will be held in polar ice, and with the lower evaporation rate of a colder climate, there will be less rain and an expansion of dry conditions. Since this could all happen within a span of ten to twenty years, the largely negative effects on world food production and habitability would be impossible to accommodate without strife.

Schwartz and Randall point out that while this may be a low probability event, its consequences are of such magnitude that planning a response is a matter of immediate concern to national security. It is important that the public become familiar with this issue, so we can have an informed debate on just exactly what we want "national security" to be. Schwartz and Randall show data on the salinity of the North Atlantic since 1960; the trend is a steady freshening.

End Of Life: Oil And Boomer Babies

During the second and third decades of the 21st century, the United States will face the unavoidable reality that the world has used up the majority of its petroleum. At the same time, we will be accommodating the retirement and end-of-life of our Baby Boom cohort, those born between 1945 and 1955. The increasing scarcity and expense of oil will force a change to alternative sources of energy, and methods of food production, as well as changes to our style of living. The large proportion of elderly people will strain the Social Security Trust Fund and the healthcare system, if these are not scrupulously maintained in the intervening years.

The expected demographic shift and natural resource loss should make for enough of a social challenge, without compounding it further by the additional surprise of abrupt climate change.

In an earlier article, I tried to show that US citizens have two choices on accommodating the demographic shift and the end of easy oil: organize the nation as either a "Green" eco-welfare, alternative energy, UN-multi-lateralist state; or as a "Red" corporate-militarist, resource imperialist, unilateralist power. These choices were presented as driving the election-year politics of 2016, when the economics of diminishing oil supplies would be evident to all. The additional complication of abrupt climate change was not considered. (6)

Green Or Red?

An abrupt climate change to cold dry conditions in Europe and North America would drive these nations toward a greater reliance on arms, and into a fortress mentality, once confronted by waves of immigration, eco-collapse refugees, and even invasions. The Green aspects of these NATO states would be strained and possibly eliminated. If there is to be any hope for Green/UN conduct by NATO states, and especially by the United States, after a climate change, it is essential to establish Green/UN attitudes and institutions as broadly and deeply as possible before the climate change. The impending end-of-life of oil and Boomer Babies is the next big challenge to the Green movement in America. The first response to climate change will be to fall back on national strengths and procedures that are most engrained and trusted: "Old friends, like old swords, still are trusted best." (7)

Can we make these swords the Green plowshares of eco-socialism and multi-national cooperation, or must we regress to hot blood on cold steel, the Red swords of military conquest and industrialized predation in a devastated world?

At the Earth Summit of 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, then US president George H. W. Bush said "The American way of life is not negotiable." If that is firm US policy then we are locked into becoming ever more reliant on military force in our dealings with everybody in the world. Given the rise of world population, the rapid depletion of remaining world oil supplies, and the impact of global warming -- which could be catastrophic if it triggers a mini Ice Age, our military campaigns to wrest from the world the treasure we require to keep our "way of life" up to the standards we are accustomed to will have to increase in number, size, and brutality. We will take no prisoners. Our future in one to two decades could be a much larger analog of the Israeli occupation of Palestine; only for the US the entire world of Latin America, the Middle East, Central and East Asia, and Africa would be our Palestine, kept at bay within their own territories by our aerial firepower, economic encirclement, and shock troops (called the S.S. in the 1940s). The home front will be militarized: with a draft, "gitmo-ized," and Patriot re-Acted.

Today, the entire world is our Titanic. The present "American way of life" is a rabidly myopic obsession with controlling the arrangement of deck chairs on this Titanic. We are on a collision course with Nature. Since it takes a long time to turn a big ship to avoid a collision, we have to start now.

Articles On Global Warming And Oil Depletion

In a short article, it is impossible to describe the many ways population growth and changing demographics, the depletion of the world's oil, and the many regional effects of global warming and possible climate change all interact. Nor is it possible to list all the consequences that might emerge. The Schwartz-Randall report is an excellent place to start, but it does not consider consequences too deeply because they are largely unknown; and it does not address the issue of oil depletion. Similarly, authors describing the potential consequences of the rapid depletion of world petroleum usually confine their comments to economic and political considerations without thought of climate change.

To approach a comprehensive understanding, it is necessary to read a variety of articles, each focused on one parameter of the problem, oil and global warming in particular, and then imagine for yourself the likely schedule of challenges to be faced. In the sections below, called "Global Warming And Climate Change," and "Oil Endgame," I list a number of articles as suggested reading. Each of these authors shines a light at one particular angle on this complicated subject, and each such transect helps to build up a holistic image of the combined socio-political and natural phenomena in the reader's mind. This is analogous to an MRI scan, where the relative dimming of beams crossing a body at many angles are reconstructed in a computer to present a 3D image of the interior.

A Green National Energetics

What follows is my own first draft of a program to carry the United States through a transition to a post-petroleum world. Such a plan is essential, regardless of the degree of climate change we actually experience, because oil depletion is a certainty. Any serious public effort to devise a "national energetics" plan would naturally continue as an effort to devise a Green response to climate change. The many failings and gaps of my program will become evident to those who put any thought to it. This is good, we need many people thinking of the many ways we can help the transition to occur in a socially responsible way. Walter Cronkite states the fundamental point very clearly: "Make Global Warming An Issue."

What kind of program would transform our society to best confront the compound challenge presented by an aging population, world oil depletion, and possible abrupt climate change, simultaneously?

Consider the following ideas, to spark discussion.

1. Tax gasoline and volumetric capacity (cc., cu., in.) of internal combustion engines.

2. Tax CO2 emissions. Sign the Kyoto Protocols -- as a start -- and move to regulate industry further on CO2 emission, as well as other pollutants and greenhouse gases.

3. Tax industries to fund the costs of removing and reversing the types of pollution they emit (don't bother asking them to clean up, just have them pay -- in advance -- for being messy).

4. Regulate prices of many energy commodities (so the taxes on polluter slobs cannot be passed on).

5. Regulate and re-regulate the power industry and utilities. These are public functions, and public interest supercedes investor greed. Nationalization of this sector would be ideal (as with health care). My life is more important than your money.

6. Provide public funding for new research into alternative power schemes for public mass transportation in particular, and provide incentives for privately financed research as well. Keep the results of publicly funded research in the public domain -- a general principle. One example of new thinking on transportation: expand rail (electric) and intra-urban light rail (trolleys) as regional networks, nationally. It is true that combustion at power plants fuels such networks, but these plants can be sited appropriately, and designed to capture and de-tox the effluents, so that pollution is dealt with at the source, and the source is secure and well-controlled. Also, large combustion-to-electricity plants (usually coal-fired) can be designed to take advantage of economy-of-scale (efficiency). Yes, also research Green personal transport (e.g., electric and fuel cell cars).

7. Ensure the wide use of solar photo-voltaic and solar water-heating for residential and municipal facilities; probably amplified with gas-heating for winter/dark conditions. Revise building codes and zoning regulations to require some Green self-generation of energy, and self-recycling of materials, for new structures. Push for energy self-sufficient, self-recycling architecture.

8. Employ wind generation where practical; this is a localized resource.

9. Convert agriculture to non-chemical (and non-petroleum!) use; and farm in smaller multi-crop units instead of massive single crop agribusiness layouts (which are easy prey to pests and major freezes, demand the use of pesticides, and who wants food monopolized?). The need is to reduce the dependence of food production on petroleum, and to enhance the natural robustness of the varieties grown.

10. Move away from such an emphasis on beef production. Too much grain is used for fattening beef. Tax cholesterol.

11. Move away from agricultural subsidies, especially where they keep supporting chemical farming. Too much grain is being produced for wasteful purposes: beef fattening and tax-dollar wasting gasohol.

12. Clearly, major conservation of gasoline, petroleum, water, and forests (for CO2 reprocessing) is essential.

13. Build mass transit to European and Japanese standards (speed, comfort, safety, modernity, extensiveness, reliability).

14. Everything on this list means applying public resources (taxes) to public benefit, instead of to wasteful corporate subsidies (as with nuclear power), which are private profit without social benefit. A fair, uniform-treatment, loophole-free tax structure would be most helpful for national financing (e.g., repeal Proposition 13 in California).

15. Reduce the US military to a defensive force, eliminating many high-petroleum use operations and pieces of equipment. This is combined with reining in our military from many far-flung posts around the world and ending the practice of ceaseless interventions.

16. Apply modern technology (e.g., plasma-torch pyrolysis) to recycle the nation's garbage and to reprocess existing garbage and toxic dump sites. Power is generated from this (buried hydrocarbons); with sufficiently large plants, the garbage can be reprocessed to benign and elemental forms, and net electricity generated: power from garbage. Plants might be $1B investments each, so this must be a public investment. "Private" investors are too small-minded to do it right, and wait long enough to get paid off (maybe a decade or more, like the Golden Gate Bridge).

17. Packaging should be regulated as a pre-pollutant and oil consumption. This will ensure a significant improvement from retail plastic waste production to enviro-packaging.

18. Cars and durable goods generally should be taxed/regulated for end-of-use disassembly/recycling. The Norwegian "Think" electric car is built this way now, it is 100% recycle-able as-built (what I have called "self-recycling").

19. The entire "move" to alternative energy, as a complex of technological projects, economic and tax policies, and shift in social patterns must become a national priority integrating the political and economic life of the country -- the move from oil to the society powered by "new" sources. This cannot be done in a chaotic, of ad hoc "free market" way. The Japanese MITI model is useful here. This is a PLANNED ECONOMY. It would be based on domestic rather than imperialistic means. A major part of this move would be the creating of new jobs, occupations and careers for the American public; jobs including "technical" ones for the majority of educational levels (at/below high school).

20. Finally, we need clean government to be able to coordinate a national move from an oil-based economy. Ideally, we would convert our government to a clean one first (no corporate money in politics; hell, no corporations at all anymore), and then we could use it to convert the country into the post-21st century society it is to become. Rather than fight or thwart the rest of the world's energy drive, we have to control and then transform our own.

21. Alternatively, we could drive off the cliff of myopic greed (the status quo), crash into the end-of-oil, have the easily expected civil wars, foreign wars, and social collapse, then wait for the survivors to possibly create a clean government (unless they proceed with the status quo, which by then will be of the war-lord/slavery variety). This late 21st century government could try to rebuild a republic with some degree of social equity and technological advancement. It seems such a shame to have to go through the Armageddon/revolution/collapse first, but probably inevitable if we remain wedded to our stupidity.

If we glide along with our present social inertia, history will record our society as one of stupidity in the service of greed. "Unable to change their patterns of thought in response to a change in natural conditions, they perished."

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Notes, References, and Resources

(all pages and sites active as of 1 July 2004)

1.  Manuel García, Jr. "Oil, Population And Global Warming," http://www.swans .com/library/art10/mgarci10.html  (back)

2.  Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall, "An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security," a report commissioned by the U.S. Defense Department, October 2003, (available as pdf file), http://www.ems.org/climate/pentagon_climate_change.html  (back)

3.  W. S. Broecker, "What If the Conveyor Were to Shut Down? Reflections on a Possible Outcome of the Great Global Experiment," GSA Today 9(1):1-7 (January 1999) http://faculty.washington.edu/wcalvin/teaching/Broecker99.html  (back)

4.  William Gale, "Stability of the Thermohaline Cycle--Three Views," http://www.distant-star.com/issue2/feb_97_scitech.htm  (back)

5.  University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, University of Michigan, "Currents Of The Ocean," http://www.windows.ucar.edu/tour/link=/earth/Water/ocean_currents.html "The Deep Waters Of The Ocean," http://www.windows.ucar.edu/tour/link=/earth/Water/deep_ocean.html "Density Of Ocean Water" http://www.windows.ucar.edu/tour/link=/earth/Water/density.html

The Ashahi Glass Foundation, "Dr. Wallace S. Broeker, 1996 Blue Planet Prize Recipient, The Great Ocean Conveyor Logo" http://www.af-info.or.jp/eng/honor/hot/enrbro.html  (back)

6.  Manuel García, Jr., "Election 2016: The Issues," http://www.swans.com/library/art10/mgarci11.html  (back)

7.  Delio, in Act II, scene ii, of The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster (1580?-1634).  (back)

Global Warming & Climate Change

Walter Cronkite, "Make Global Warming an Issue," The Philadelphia Enquirer, 15 March 2004, http://www.philly.com/mld/philly/8187862.htm (original) http://www.truthout.org/docs_04/031704G.shtml (reprint)

Mark Townsend and Paul Harris, "Now the Pentagon Tells Bush: Climate Change Will Destroy Us," The Observer, 22 February 2004, http://observer.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,1153513,00.html (original) http://www.truthout.org/docs_04/022304G.shtml (reprint, above only) Graphic: "The World In 2050" http://www.guardian.co.uk/globalwarming/graphic/0,7367,397048,00.html "Key Findings Of The Pentagon" http://www.guardian.co.uk/climatechange/story/0,12374,1153547,00.html "Guardian Special Report on Climate Change" http://www.guardian.co.uk/climatechange/0,12374,782494,00.html

Thomas Atkins, "Insurer Warns of Global Warming Catastrophe," Planet Ark, 6 March 2004, http://www.planetark.com/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/24122/story.htm (original), http://www.truthout.org/docs_04/030704G.shtml (reprint)

"New Carbon-Neutral Consciousness as Greenhouse Gases Rise," Agence France-Presse, 29 March 2004, http://www.terradaily.com/2004/040329020045.qzbg1d0x.html (original)

Alister Doyle, "Pinprick Attacks on Global Warming Gain Popularity," Reuters, 30 March 2004, http://www.planetark.com/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/24495/story.htm (original)

(reprint of previous two articles) http://www.truthout.org/docs_04/033104G.shtml

Kelpie Wilson, "We're Closer to the Edge Than We Think," truthout, 27 February 2004, http://www.truthout.org/docs_04/022904G.shtml "The take home message on the Pentagon report comes from Peter Drekmeier, co-founder of Environmentalists Against War, who notes: 'It appears that the only weapon of mass destruction to be found in Iraq is oil.'"

Oil Endgame

Paul Roberts, "Running Out of Oil - and Time," Editorial, The Los Angeles Times, 7 March 2004, http://www.truthout.org/docs_04/030904G.shtml (reprint)

Mike Davis (tomdispatch.com), "The Empire at Oil's End," 29 May 2004, http://www.alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=18826 (original) http://www.truthout.org/docs_04/060104G.shtml (reprint)

Mike Davis, "The View from Hubbert's Peak," Socialist Review, June 2004, http://www.socialistreview.org.uk/article.php?articlenumber=8930

Yves Cochet, "Vers la pétro-apocalypse," Le Monde, 31 March 2004, http://www.lemonde.fr/web/article/0,1-0@2-3232,36-359335,0.html

Colin J. Campbell, "Middle East Oil - Reality And Illusion," April 2004, http://www.peakoil.net/Publications/REALITY_AND_ILLUSION.pdf The Association for the Study of peak oil and Gas, ASPO, http://www.peakoil.net/

Michael Klare, "Bush-Cheney Energy Strategy: Procuring the Rest of the World's Oil," January 2004, http://www.fpif.org/papers/03petropol/politics.html

"Cheney Energy Task Force Documents Feature Map Of Iraqi Oilfields, Commerce & State Department Reports to Task Force Detail Oilfield & Gas Projects, Contracts & Exploration, Saudi Arabian & UAE Oil Facilities Profiled As Well" press release 17 July 2003, http://www.judicialwatch.org/071703.b_PR.shtml

Adam Porter, "Is the World's Oil Running Out Fast?" BBC, 7 June 2004, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/3777413.stm (original) http://www.truthout.org/docs_04/060904F.shtml (reprint) "And Dr Campbell has a dire warning: 'If the real figures were to come out there would be panic on the stock markets, in the end that would suit no one.'"

US Elections & Democracy on Swans

America the 'beautiful' on Swans

Iraq on Swans


Manuel García, Jr. is a graduate aerospace engineer, working as a physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He did underground nuclear testing between 1978 and 1992. He is concerned with employee rights and unionization at the nuclear weapons labs, and the larger issue of their social costs. Otherwise, he is an amateur poet who is fascinated by the physics of fluids, zen sensibility, and the impact of truth.

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Published July 19, 2004
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