Sun over the savannah in Tanzania. "The great plains once stretched across East Africa in an almost unbroken swathe" (Porritt 56). Many areas of the world are facing desertification and other forms of catastrophic environmental change as a result of human impact.
For an updated account please refer to:
The Rape of the Planet and Genetic Holocaust
in our work Sexual Paradox
Hathor's Eye and the Gaia Hypothesis
Ancient Egypt provides us with a severe warning for our own time - a chilling saga of what was probably an earlier human-induced environmental crisis, leading to desertification, famine, and its eventual respite in the return of verdant fertility through society re-embracing the fertility principle.
Hathor in her angry form as Tefnet sears humanity with her angry sun eye. The people are devastated and many die. Thoth the moon God, who pronounces the logos of wisdom, is sent to plead with her by the Gods of Egypt, out of concern for the fate of humankind. It is only by embracing her wildness and entreatying her to re-assume her verdant form as the goddess of fertility and moisture, dispensing her life-giving waters from her sacred sycamore tree that the world is saved and with it, frail humanity.
The manifestation of Tefnet is so severe that in some myths, it is only by dying the beer red as the blood of humanity smeared on the desert, that Hathor's anger is assuaged in eucharistic inebriation. This likewise suggests that our relationship with the verdant nature of ongoing life may likewise depend on the natural eucharistic sacraments because of the deeper relationship they provide between humanity and nature in both mind and body.
The Gaia hypothesis is a twentieth-century scientific concept which has also assumed the status of a living myth which evokes the spirit of the Earth Goddess in the feedback cycles of the atmosphere. It states that the atmosphere of the earth is a feedback system which adapts to external changes in a self-correcting manner through the action of the biota itself. One fundamental aspect of the Gaia hypothesis is the notion that the oxygen atmosphere is a product of photosynthesis. The sequestering of coal and oil reserves and the depositing of limestone illustrate a variety of ways the biota also responds to atmospheric CO2 by sequestering carbon into the earth's crust.
On the other hand it is characteristic of many such non-linear feedback systems that if they are pushed too far, a bifurcation or catastrophic transition can occur, in which the system undergoes major oscillation and perhaps settles into a new and different stability state. A transition to such a hostile environment is the basis of the Egyptian myth of the angry Sun Eye of Hathor. This may be associated with the increasing desertification which happened to the fertile crescent through a combination of socially-induced exploitation including foraging by goats and environmental change. Were the climate and habitat of the Middle East the way it is today the dawn of civilization might well not have happened.
There are a much vaster array of globally deleterious effects that are happening to the Earth this century as a result of human impacts which may involve non-linear feedback or catalytic amplification.. One non-linear change of particular current concern is the ozone hole, in which the release of even small amounts of chloro-fluorocarbons into the atmosphere and the resulting high-altitude chlorine monoxide catalytically devastates the ozone layer which gives us protection from ultra-violet radiation.
A second more serious change is global warming induced by the release of gasses, particularly the massive amounts of carbon dioxide generated by the burning of non-renewable fossil fuels. Associated with global warming is increasing desertification of sensitive arid regions, partly as a result of non-linear changes in the stability patterns of the weather, including freak storms and floods and changes in the ocean circulation, particularly the increasingly persistent El Nino oscillation in the Southern Pacific, which has dessicated tropical forests from the Amazon to Sumatra and Africa and interrupting the monsoon. A second similar conveyor process associated with the North Atlantic is critical for European weather.
There is significant risk that these changes because they are happening far to fast for plant species to adjust to will cause the death or decay of large forest areas as they move out of the climatic zone to which they are adapted. These changes could bring further changes which could exacerbate the very problems which precipitated them.
2: Global Warming and The Greenhouse Effect
Of much more long-lived potential for disaster however is the Hathor greenhouse eye of global warming, which could rupture major biological life zones, flood coastal regions and have a lifetime of several hundreds of years. Scientists are now broadly agreed that the greenhouse effect is bringing about the greatest and most rapid climatic change in the history of evolution. It will have enormous consequences for all life on earth.
Causes and history
The Earth absorbs radiant energy at the thermal temperature of the sun's surface of around 5000 deg C but radiates it back into space at a much longer wavelength corresponding to our temperature of about 25 deg C. Some gasses such as carbon dioxide (CO2) tend to reflect back this lower frequency radiation and thus trapping more of the the heat, like glass in a green house, while allowing the light rays of the sun to come through. Natural levels of carbon dioxide make life possible: without them the average temperature of the planet would be 30 deg C colder.
"In 1896 Svante Arrhenius, the great Swedish chemist, coined the phrase "the greenhouse effect" and predicted that the burning of fossil fuels would increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and lead to a warming of the world's climate. In 1800 the gas was still at its pre-industrial level, about 280 parts per million (ppm). By the time Arrhenius issued his warning, pollution had already raised this level to about 300 ppm. It has now topped 350 ppm and is growing rapidly" (Lean et. al. 93).
World's Top Ten emitters 2005 and 2006 (China and US)
There are already signs of major disruptions to both the Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets which seem to be accelerating. Changes in global temperature may also be linked to a more chaotic climate with more frequent costly and damaging storms and changes in the North Atlantic conveyor which powers the Gulf Stream and keeps the north from extreme winters and possibly El Niño, although this is debated. However by far the most serious effect is the potential destruction of genetic and species diversity. The pace of global warming is so rapid that there is no time for plant species to spread by seeding and whole ecosystems are predicted to die out. Global warming is thus one of the potentially most major contributors to mass extinction. Recent experimental studies in 2008 have refuted ideas that global warming could be partly a result of solar cycles of activity, leaving humans with both the blame and the responsibility.
"Every year some 24 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide are released, and this is increasing by about 750 million metric tons a year (Lean 93). About four fifths comes from the burning of fossil fuels. The rest is from destroying vegetation, mainly the felling of forests. Trees fix carbon in the form of CO2 when alive to form carbohydrates such as wood, but release it when they are cut down and are burned or decompose. Carbon dioxide accounts for rather more than half of the warming. It is joined by several other greenhouse gases. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are responsible for about another quarter and the remainder of the greenhouse effect is caused mainly by two other gases, methane and nitrous oxide. Both are given off by fossil fuels and the burning of vegetation. Nitrous oxide is also emitted by fertilizers and methane by termites chewing through rotting forests, swamps and rice paddies and from the carbohydrate-decomposing intestines of ruminants, such as cattle. Massive quantities of methane are caught in frozen areas of Alaska and undersea deposits as hydrates. "Concentrations of these gases together, the best scientific estimates suggest, will reach the equivalent of 560 ppm of carbon dioxide, double the natural level, by the year 2030. Ozone near ground level makes an as yet unquantified contribution" (Lean 93).
As an illustration, 1997 and 1998 have been the hottest years on record for a full 600 years, adding fuel to concern over global warming. For the five months to May 98 the world temperature has remained at an unprecedented 0.6 deg above the 1902-80 global mean. On a longer scale, the 1990s and 1980s were by far the hottest decades ever recorded; despite some moderating effects from the dust of volcanic eruptions. Over the last century, the world has warmed by between 0.3 and 0.6 deg C. No-one can yet be sure whether this is due to the greenhouse effect, or simply the result of natural variations in the climate, though it would be consistent with the increase in the polluting gases over the period. Despite some debate as to the exact extent of the changes and how detrimental their effects will be, scientists are increasingly certain that the greenhouse effect is having an increasingly significant impact. In 1990, 300 world experts, reporting for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climatic Change gave a "best estimate" predicting that by the year 2020 the world will, on average, be 1.3 deg C warmer than now, rising to 3 deg C warmer by 2070 (Lean 93).
The situation regarding global warming is clouded by a politico-scientific debate in which some so-called reputable scientists have continued to discount the extent of global warming or to allege that the benefits may equal the losses on the basis of ancient warm periods such as the carboniferous. Much of this rhetoric seems either a defensive posture by the major energy-emitting corporations, including the oil industry or more subtly part of the utopian dream of endless technologically-inspired growth.
The greenhouse sceptics base the core of their case on three factors (New Scientist 19 July 97):
Global Warming to 2003
Global Warming to 2002
The pessimistic environmentalists, by contrast, express grave concerns about many combined qualitative changes which could lead to bifurcation to a new climatic state, including melting polar ice caps, rising oceans, the massive loss of biodiversity from species carried out of their survival zones and exacerbating problems of the failure of the world's temperate forests.
More recently world governments attempted to come to terms with the political decisions required to come to terms with reducing energy inefficiency and dependence on fossil fuels. This has been again opposed by the major emitting industries. The 1997 Kyoto conference was widely described as a horse-trading session in which, despite Europe's dedicated efforts and preparedness to make an 8% reduction in emissions from 1990 levels by 2010, the US at first refused and then made a behind the scenes deal with Russia to buy up their significant shortfall in emissions caused by recession of Soviet industries. The US paper concession of a 7% reduction could thus on the basis of tradeable emissions correspond to an actual 12% increase in emissions. Despite this the US has still to fully ratify this non-concession just as it is still to ratify the 1992 Biodiversity Convention. Of the developing countries China was also notable in its political clout on behalf of developing nations to serve its own political interests as an emitter. Such world political complacency in a year which saw Indonesian peat and forest fires emitting as much CO2 as the whole of Western Europe is a case of potentially terminal irresponsibility.
Little has changed since as the Buenos Aires global emission talks indicate in Nov 98.
The Ozone Hole
September 2000 The ozone hole is currently 28.3 million square kilometres, the largest ever, according to NASA, more than a million larger than the previous worst and three times larger than the entire US.
October 2000 Low ozone air is passing over Tierra del Fuego, causing residents to become confined in their own homes because of the severe risk of burning in only 7 minutes exposure.
The release of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) into the atmosphere associated with refrigeration, air-conditioning and non-flammable aerosol propellants and plastic foams has had a devastating effect on the world's protective ozone layer. Chlorine and its oxide has catalytic destructive powers when CFCs broken down in the upper atmosphere reach the ozone layer where one atom of chlorine and its monoxide can catalyse the destruction of millions of molecules of ozone. The effect, which has a lifetime of the order of a hundred years began to cause a non-linear transition at the poles - the ozone hole. This has caused a variety of impacts including increases in skin cancer, cataracts, and radiation stress to polar flora and fauna.
Inverse variation of ozone and chlorine monoxide with latitude confirms the effect of CFCs (Lean 98).
Major ozone-destroying chemicals and their uses
The close relation between chlorine monoxide and ozone depletion is clearly illustrated in the above figure. The million-fold amplification is also clear.
The history of the antarctic ozone hole indicates how non-linear effects can become actively suppressed. Awareness of the problem was delayed for several years because the first appearance of the problem was compensated for and adjusted out of the surveys as an experimental anomaly. Much later it was realized that the effect had become real and serious. The ozone in the seasonally still upper atmosphere in the polar spring suffers a catastrophic seasonal decline. A similar, albeit less severe ozone hole has subsequently begun to develop over the arctic, probably suppressed in part by other atmospheric contaminants.
Russia continues to be a major producer of CFCs
Although this problem is now beginning to stabilize, as a result of international protocols banning the use of CFCs in developed countries after 1996, it will continue to cause increased cancers for another 50 years. Under the Montreal Protocol in 1988 and the subsequent London and Copenhagen amendments in 1990 and 1992, industrialised countries have agreed to phase out the production and use of CFCS, halons and a number of other ozone-depleting substances. Halons were largely banned after January 1994, and CFCs after January 1996.
However the depletion of the Antarctic ozone hole in Nov 1996 was right to absolute zero in the critical zone as the news reports: "We have reached the bottom. All the ozone contained within the polar vortex area between 14km and 22km is destroyed. That's it. We cannot have lower values than that. There is no more ozone to be destroyed."
There is a continuing problem of clandestine manufacture and smuggling of CFCs centred on Russia, which remains a very significant producer of freons despite agreements phasing out its use. A significant proportion of this is smuggled by criminals. An initiative by the World Bank to buy up and close down these clandestine factories for the small sum of $40 million lapsed for donor apathy.
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