The Anthropocene and Global Warming
Anthropocene: geological epoch dating from the commencement
of significant human impact on Earth’s geology and ecosystems.
Someday, anthropologists and historians will look again at the possible causes of Global Warming. That it was Anthropogenic has long since been recognized, but let them ask what were some of the worse things humans did to cause Global Warming? What led them to so damage their only home?
For Humans’ first 200,000 years, their impact remained low. World wide Human Population, made up of small groupings of hunter-gatherers, never reached 10 million. The First Agricultural Revolution, occurring around 10,000 B.C. when human population was still below 10 million, brought more land under cultivation; producing more food which supported an increase in population.
As the Human Population continued to grow, humans came to live in villages, then towns, and then cities. More people required more food, more housing, more fuel for heating and cooking, … Ancient Rome, circa 800 B.C., is thought to have had a population of 1 million. A city of that size needed a lot of lumber from trees for houses, wood from trees for cooking and heating, timbers from trees for the ships for trade and war. Over-cutting of adjacent forest caused soil erosion and local Climate Change. A lot of food was needed to feed a population of 1 million. This required the cultivation and grazing of more land; led to the over-cropping and over-grazing of the surrounding lands. Soils were being degraded and eroded, and grasslands were being turned into deserts.
By the times of Classical Greece and Ancient Rome, Human Activities were, without doubt, impacting the Earth’s Geology and Ecosystems, and effecting local Climates.
The Second Agricultural Revolution began in Britain in the 17th Century when world population was still only some 700 million. This time, food production was increased by advances in farm machinery and better farming methods. This Second Agricultural Revolution, too, supported a significant increase in population (the populations of Britain and Wales nearly double over the next 100 years).
This Second Agricultural Revolution is thought by some to have been parent to the far more significant Industrial Revolution of the mid 18th Century. (The great amounts of wealth being generated at the time by the slave trade and the use of slave labor in the colonies may well have been another major contributing factor to its birth.) The dawning of this 18th Century Industrial Revolution marked the beginning of the Industrial Age, the beginning of humans’ greatest onslaught ever on the environment.
Since its beginnings, the actors of the Industrial Age heedlessly spewed toxic pollutants into the atmosphere and/or dumped them into the streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans; and, with impunity, mined large areas of the earth for the coal and minerals they needed.
For 200+ years the Industrial Age proceeded thus, showing little regard for Consequences: Resources were treated as if they were unlimited, and, before the middle of the 20th Century, little thought was given to the Consequences of dumping industries’ toxic wastes into the air and water.
From the Revolution’s beginning, and for the first nearly 200 years thereafter, humans toiled long arduous hours in the polluted interiors of its factories and mines (still do in some countries, including the USA). For much of the Industrial Age, in the Western World, Child Labor was acceptable (still is in the developing world), any and all Labor was expendable. Well into the 20th Century, in the United States, workers starved to death while working at 60+ hours/week jobs.
All during the Industrial Age, most of the energy for manufacturing, transportation, and heating came from Fossil Fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas. Cheap and plentiful, they were a gift from the gods. But, it turns out that these Fossil Fuels were cursed. Burning Fossil Fuels emits CO2, a Greenhouse Gas, the major cause of Global Warming. Greenhouse Gasses in the atmosphere absorb and remit energy in all directions resulting in a reflecting of some reflective solar energy back toward the earth, thus trapping more heat in the earth’s atmosphere, thus warming the planet.
World population, still only 750 million at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the 17th Century, grew to nearly 2 billion by the beginning of the 20th Century, then shot to 6 billion by the 20th Century’s end. This growth in population was attributable several factors: Manufacturing produced wealth that provided income that paid for more food and housing. Science produced medicines that cured illnesses and fertilizers that increased food production. As an Unintended Consequence of these advances, world population exploded. By now, early in the 21st Century, the earth is home to some 7.5 billion people consuming goods from production processes that emit the bulk of the Greenhouse Gases that cause Global Warming; home to some 7.5 billion people whose daily activities use energy from the burning of fossil fuels that emit the Greenhouse Gases that cause Global Warming.
Those 19th and 20th Century scientists who invented the medicines and fertilizers did so no doubt hoping to decrease human suffering; the great increase in World Population in the 20th Century was an Unintended Consequence of these discoveries. Due the Population increase, there was more human suffering than before. Before the scientific interventions, Human Population was at a Natural Equilibrium. When fooling with Nature, Humans (Governments?) should think long and hard about the possible consequences of upsetting such an equilibrium, about how to deal with or preclude Unintended Consequences.
The Industrial Age was all about making things and goods to be sold to people who wanted to buy them. As with any and all Businesses, the Industrial Age required a Market for its products in order to even survive. Those who bought the things and goods in this Market were the Consumers. Along with the Industrial Age came ‘Consumerism’.
Definition of consumerism 1 : the theory that an increasing consumption of goods is economically desirable
There could have been an Industrial Age premised only on producing needed goods. It would not have been nearly of a scale as the one premised on Consumerism, Marketing, and Planned Obsolescence that came to be.
Whither its origins, the majority of Humans were quick to accept Consumerism. More people consuming more and more goods and services requiring more and more energy to produce; let’s call this ever increasing Consumption ‘Growth’. What had once been a Sustainable Economic Model at Equilibrium was now an Economic Model based on Growth.
In 1930, a World Population of 2 billion consumed 20 tera-watt hours (TWh) of energy from fossil fuels per year — at a rate of 10 kilowatt hours (KWh) per person per year.
In 2018, a World Population of 7.5 billion (3.75 times greater) consumed 160 TWh per year (8 times as much energy) — at a rate 21.33 KWh per person per year .
The 2018 World Population, 3.75 times greater than that of 1930, using more than twice as much energy per person, was using 8 times as much energy from fossil fuels per year.
The 2018 World Population produced 8 times more Greenhouse Gas Emissions than the 1930 World Population.
Concentrations of Greenhouse Gasses, in the 250-300 ppm range for thousands of years before the Industrial Revolution, increased into the 350-400 ppm range during the 20th Century. A 100 ppm increase in the Century; 30 ppm in the last two Decades of the Century alone. If Greenhouse Gas Emissions were stopped today, it would take Centuries for the levels to ‘Decay’ back into the 250-300 ppm range.
The Earth’s Atmosphere would have been able to tolerate indefinitely the Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the 20 TWh per year produced by the 2 billion souls of 1930 burning Fossil Fuels without warming up; it obviously can not tolerate the Emissions from the 160 TWh per year produced by the 7.5 billion souls of 2018 burning Fossil Fuels without warming up. Our only viable option is to drastically reduce (by 87.5% to get back to 1930 levels) Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Now!!!
The Industrial Age was a time of huge transition for Humans; upsetting social norms, demanding new economics. Adam Smith, 1723-1790, following on the work of David Hume, 1711-1776, a fellow Scottish Philosopher; was one of the first to take a look at the impacts of the Industrial Age; was credited with the coining the term ‘Free Markets’ in describing what he saw as an essential concept of the new Economics of the Industrial Age.
In the 19th Century, Karl Marx, 1818-1883, a German Philosopher, often along with Friedrick Engels, 1820-1895, another German Philosopher, took another look at the impacts of the Industrial Age; sharpening the distinction between the roles of ‘Labor’ and ‘Capital’. A Marx contemporary, French-Spanish historian Louis Blanc, is often credited with introducing the word ‘Capitalism’ as used in the modern sense.
Still and all, the social intricacies of living with the Industrial Age weren’t worked out until the early 20th Century. This was mostly due the effort of Organized Labor and Progressive Governments. Mid-20th Century Workers, making a living wage, working reasonable hours could afford food and housing for their families; maybe even send their kids to college. The Middle Class was born.
By 1970-75, the Industrial Age was coming to an end; welcome to the Age of Technology. Will the Age of Technology transition take as long? Be as painful? What will be the Economic Model for the Age of Technology? For the Age of Globalization?
In the US and the rest of the Western World, from the 1960s forward, much was done to reduce toxic pollution and increase energy efficiency. But, until 1990, almost nothing was done to reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions. And, not nearly enough efficiency improvements were made to offset the increased energy needs of a rapidly growing Consumer Class swollen by Globalization.
Too many people consuming too many goods and services produced using energy from Fossil Fuels was obviously the biggest contributor to Global Warming. Some populations consumed more than others. For the nearly 2.5 Centuries Before Globalization (BG), First World populations: burned most of the fossil fuels, consumed most of the goods produced, and contributed the bulk of the emissions. Today, manufacturing has shifted to China, India, … and, so, consumption of goods, consumption of energy, and Greenhouse Gas emissions.
The roles of Population and Consumption in bringing on Global Warming are abundantly clear. But, what role, if any, did Economic Policies themselves play in bringing on Global Warming? Consumerism and Growth are much a part of the ‘Capitalism’ economic model to which the United States and most of the rest of the Western World, subscribe. Was there a ‘Capitalistocene’ within the Anthropocene?
Western Capitalism, in its modern form, as an Economic Model, came to be with the Industrial Age. In part, it appears, as a way of explaining the dynamics of the Industrial Age. In part, perhaps, as a way of rationalizing, legitimizing, the Economics, the Social Consequences, of the Industrial Age. In part, perhaps, as a way of justifying the inequities that came along with the Age. And, perhaps, to some at least, as a new deity?
In the Capitalism Economic Model, there is the Capitalist Class (Capital = Wealth), who own the means of production, and the much, much larger Worker Class (Labor), who must work for wages. In a functioning Capitalists Economy, both the Capitalist Class and the Worker Class benefit from the Consumption of Goods and Services; both benefit from Population Growth and associated increase in Consumption. But, when the nation’s Economy is based on the Capitalism Economic Model, it is the Capitalists who control the Economy; and, usually, the politics, of a nation. Capitalism traditionally looked to profits only and turned a blind eye to both Toxic Pollutants and Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Another Economic Model might have chosen cleaner alternative sources of energy. Capitalists profited from lax Governmental Regulations on Toxic Pollutants and Greenhouse Gas Emissions; opposed any and all Regulation.
Clearly, Non-Capitalists Economies have been as bad, or worse, though perhaps not on a scale, to spew and dump Toxic Pollutants and Greenhouse Gasses with little regard for the Consequences. This disregard for Nature seems endemic Modern Societies. Most Indigenous, First, Aboriginal, or Native Peoples revered Nature; the First World Peoples of the Industrial Age, not so much. When, where did this disrespect, disregard originate? Did it originate with the first Cities? Was the pursuit of riches a factor?
We were told that somehow Free Markets and Capitalism would get it all right. They didn’t. Making up the Dominant Economic Paradigm, they did: squander resources, including human lives, pollute the Atmosphere and Waters, and promote the use of Fossil Fuels which has brought us to this brink of disaster called Global Warming.
How is it that the Capitalists, such a small percentage of the Population, control Government Policy in a Democracy like ours? Corruption is without a doubt a factor. The U.S. Government of the Gilded Age was corrupt; openly bought and paid for by Capitalists. These days, such Corruption usually rides forth under the banner of Ideology. Ideology is considered somehow legit. Corrupt Legislators can easily claim their votes are based on their Ideology; they might even convince themselves of this.
Political Campaigns are about Manipulating Public Opinion. In a Manipulable Populace, Capitalists can control Government Policy by Marketing an Ideology that benefits themselves. They can buy an Political Office with Campaign Contributions to elect a Candidate with the right ‘Ideology’. That Candidate can rationalize their vote to themselves and to the voters as being based on ‘Ideology’. Capitalists are very good at Marketing. Capitalist have been very successful Marketing Capitalism. In today’s Political Market, they can buy the Supreme Court by way of buying the Senate wing of the Legislature and they can buy the Legislature and Presidency via Campaign Contributions as allowed by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision; a decision giving Capitalists even more power.
How is it that Ideology is accorded so much legitimacy in the Media? In American Society? Nightly, we hear News Media Personalities, and Actual Journalists, speak respectfully of Ideology as if it were on a par with scientific evidence based on facts. But Ideology, based on belief, may have little basis in reality, on the facts, or on scientific evidence. Seems that many Ideologues don’t really believe in Science, Reasoning, …, or Reality.
Are we not allowed to question one’s Beliefs?
Based on belief, Ideology is most akin Religion. The First Amendment prohibits the establishment of a Religion. How would the Founding Fathers have felt about the establishment of a National Ideology? A National Credo? A National Creed? A National Doctrine? A National Dogma? A National Gospel? They would likely say that everyone is entitled to their own Ideology, but weren’t allowed to impose it on others.
But, Ideology is being, or is being attempted to be, imposed on We The People by the Capitalists via Campaign Donations and the likes of their American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), by the Ideologues on the Supreme Court, by the Federalist Society via the likes of Senate Majority Leader McConnell, by Evangelical Christians via the likes of Donald J. Trump, … Associated.
Thanks Angry Bear for posting.
It was good read. Thanks for writing it.
We have Linda Beale’s post on
Thanks Dan for the link to the Linda Beale piece. Seldom seen a leader so given to going backward.