The Earth is in a death spiral. It will take radical action to save us

From The Guardian UK:

Climate breakdown could be rapid and unpredictable. We can no longer tinker around the edges and hope minor changes will avert collapse

Wed 14 Nov 2018

It was a moment of the kind that changes lives. At a press conference held by climate activists Extinction Rebellion last week, two of us journalists pressed the organisers on whether their aims were realistic. They have called, for example, for UK carbon emissions to be reduced to net zero by 2025. Wouldn’t it be better, we asked, to pursue some intermediate aims?

A young woman called Lizia Woolf stepped forward. She hadn’t spoken before, but the passion, grief and fury of her response was utterly compelling. “What is it that you are asking me as a 20-year-old to face and to accept about my future and my life? … This is an emergency. We are facing extinction. When you ask questions like that, what is it you want me to feel?” We had no answer.

Softer aims might be politically realistic, but they are physically unrealistic. Only shifts commensurate with the scale of our existential crises have any prospect of averting them. Hopeless realism, tinkering at the edges of the problem, got us into this mess. It will not get us out.

Public figures talk and act as if environmental change will be linear and gradual. But the Earth’s systems are highly complex, and complex systems do not respond to pressure in linear ways. When these systems interact (because the world’s atmosphere, oceans, land surface and lifeforms do not sit placidly within the boxes that make study more convenient), their reactions to change become highly unpredictable. Small perturbations can ramify wildly. Tipping points are likely to remain invisible until we have passed them. We could see changes of state so abrupt and profound that no continuity can be safely assumed.

Only one of the many life support systems on which we depend – soils, aquifers, rainfall, ice, the pattern of winds and currents, pollinators, biological abundance and diversity – need fail for everything to slide. For example, when Arctic sea ice melts beyond a certain point, the positive feedbacks this triggers (such as darker water absorbing more heat, melting permafrost releasing methane, shifts in the polar vortex) could render runaway climate breakdown unstoppable. When the Younger Dryas period ended 11,600 years ago, temperatures rose 10C within a decade.

I don’t believe such a collapse is yet inevitable, or that a commensurate response is either technically or economically impossible. When the US joined the second world war in 1941, it replaced a civilian economy with a military economy within months. As Jack Doyle records in his book Taken for a Ride, “In one year, General Motors developed, tooled and completely built from scratch 1,000 Avenger and 1,000 Wildcat aircraft … Barely a year after Pontiac received a navy contract to build anti-shipping missiles, the company began delivering the completed product to carrier squadrons around the world.” And this was before advanced information technology made everything faster.

The problem is political. A fascinating analysis by the social science professor Kevin MacKay contends that oligarchy has been a more fundamental cause of the collapse of civilisations than social complexity or energy demand. Control by oligarchs, he argues, thwarts rational decision-making, because the short-term interests of the elite are radically different to the long-term interests of society. This explains why past civilisations have collapsed “despite possessing the cultural and technological know-how needed to resolve their crises”. Economic elites, which benefit from social dysfunction, block the necessary solutions.

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I Battled My Body For 30 Years. Having A Transgender Daughter Changed Everything.

From The Huffington Post:

Paria Hassouri

I stand in the dressing room, turning to the side, running my hand over the bulge of my tummy, dipping it in over the line caused by my underwear. I notice the way the dress clings just a little too much over my hips. At 45, there is no denying that I have my mom’s body, but on this particular day it is OK. Over the last few months, I have finally realized just how lucky I am to have her body ― a body that matches my gender identity ― because over the last year, my daughter Ava has revealed to me that she knows she was born in the wrong one.

I remember, years ago, watching my mother in similar dressing rooms as she tried on skirt after skirt in search of one cut in a way to flatter her body rather than draw attention to her “problem” areas. I won’t let myself gain that extra 20 pounds, I thought back then. I’ll keep my weight in check so the pear shape I inherited from her won’t be accentuated, I promised myself. I spent a good 30 years trying to keep my genetic predisposition under control, starting at the age of 12. It was three full decades of criticizing my reflection in every mirror and store window I passed and waging a war with everything I ate, or even thought about eating, before I eventually embraced an exercise routine. And though I’ve been able to successfully fight off that extra 20 pounds, there has been no denying the changes my body has undergone in the last five years since turning 40.

On this particular day, as I study ― rather than scrutinize ― my body in the dressing room mirror, I wonder what my daughter has thought as she’s watched me get dressed. I picture my teenage self observing my mom moisturize her entire body after her shower, her hands moving up her leg to her thighs and over her hips, and I think about how many times my kids have walked into my bathroom while I am doing the same thing. I wonder about the differences between how I would see my mom versus how my daughter sees me. I would look at my mother’s body and think of all things that were “wrong” with it, while my daughter looks at my body and sees the body we define as female ― a body she wants for herself.

“How long do you think I’d have to be taking estrogen before I start developing some breast tissue?” she’s asked me. I’ve spent years making jokes about how awful my sagging breasts look ― breasts that sag because they’ve had the privilege of nursing three kids. I’ve complained about all of the times they have been squished into mammograms and eventually MRI’d to keep close watch on some suspicious areas. I’ve lamented all of the clothes I can’t wear because I always have to wear a bra, while she awaits the development of her breasts as some kind of proof or validation of the woman she is.

“You know how most girls have thighs that are wider and curve at the top? Is there any exercise that can help mine become like that?” she’s asked. I explained to her that I think exercise will build up her muscles, but she should do whatever exercise she wants if she enjoys it and not worry about that. I think about all the times I’ve noticed my thighs splay out when I sit on a couch, or the times I’ve cropped them out of a photo. While I’ve always hated my wide “child-bearing” hips ― the same ones that my mom and all five of her sisters have ― she is eager for hormones to redistribute some fat to the same area of her body. Why have I always thought that my thighs and hips betray me ― even though they are, in fact, exactly as they should be ― when my daughter’s entire body betrays her?

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Friday Night Fun and Culture: Fats Waller

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