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'We Can't Undo This': On a Planet in Crisis

'We Can't Undo This': On a Planet in Crisis

Dahr Jamail

I’m standing atop Rush Hill on Alaska's remote St. Paul Island. While only 665 feet high, it provides a 360-degree view of this tundra-covered, 13-mile-long, seven-mile-wide part of the Pribilof Islands. While the hood of my rain jacket flaps in the cold wind, I gaze in wonder at the silvery waters of the Bering Sea. The ever-present wind whips the surface into a chaos of whitecaps, scudding mist, and foam.


As one who spent his career in education and research on matters of environmental hydrology, I am all too familiar with the impacts of my behavior on the planet. Nevertheless, I still travel a fair amount with my hound to enjoy the glorious treasures that dot the landscape, both natural and cultural in character. The real culprit has always been and remains to be the corporate circling of the wagons around the fossil fuel golden goose. My sitting at home in a hair shirt can’t change that, only roll-up-the-sleeves politics has a shot–and it’s a long one. When I see the sprawl that the market embraces where people commute further and further to larger and larger McMansions replete with ever thirsty lawns depleting the flow to our springs, I curse the market and the libertarian denial of a finite planet. The only way to meaningfully fight is through politics, excluding population control–where at least I have a perfect score. Good luck future generations. I have neither sinned too badly nor lived too saintly, yet my impact could never be sustained seven-billion fold. I guess ignorance is bliss after all…


This is true of a large percentage of us (certainly me) in the US - I’m guessing way over 1/2. I hope changes can be won to allow more people to have fulfilling lives at a fraction of the current average impact and I hope more people figure out how imperative it is to have fewer people in future generations.


The industrial chemicals released into the environment are also driving the extinction train, most visibly the agricultural insecticides, herbicides and fertilizers.

The sheer number of humans is also a problem. Even in a non-fossil fuel economy there are more than twice as many of us as can be sustainably provided for. Read Morton and Sharma’s 2009 paper “Thermodynamic Considerations in (Population) Carrying Capacity”.

The coup de gras will be administered by the meltdown of the nuclear energy power plants.


The fossil fuel industry receives a lot of criticism these days, and rightfully so. But in the final analysis, we are the ones who support the energy industry and it is our standard of living that will need to change. So contemplate what you can do for the cause

Personal Actions

End our love affair with the automobile

Ride more trains and buses

Car pool

Walk and bike more

Turn off the air conditioner in the summer and dial the thermostat down in winter

Become vegetarians or vegans

Refill plastic water bottles with tap water

Discontinue using aluminum cans with and without carbonation

Maximize use of reusable bags and products

Recycle junk mail

Forego fast junk food

Go to “slow food”;

Recycle maximally, especially aluminum cans

Drive and accelerate more slowly

Climb more stairs

Plant more trees

Forego use of spray cans

Ride more trains and buses

Repair, mend and alter as much as possible

Buy solar panels

Compost as much as possible

Last person out of the room turn off the lights

Eat and farm organic

Ride more trains and buses

Fly fewer planes

Promote conference calls and web cams, fewer meetings

Use manual tools instead of power tools

Share more

Use rakes rather than leaf blowers

Decrease use of bottled water and refill plastic bottles with tap water

Maximize reusable bags and products

Push rather than power small mowers

Replace lawns with vegetable gardens

Stop fertilizing and mowing lawns

Compost as much as possible

Minimize use of disposables (Pampers);

Maximize high efficiency LED and solar powered lighting;

Limit endless gadgets

Use motion lighting, where appropriate

Decrease consumption

Limit family size

Local Government Actions

Reorganize cities, building taller residences with a smaller footprint (the end of suburbia)

Institute a carbon tax

Promote car pooling subsidize and expand mass transit

Expand bike paths

Have shareable (zip) cars

Ban electric outdoor signs;

Eat and farm organic

Promote conference calls and web cams, fewer meetings

Eliminate approximately 50% of all street lighting and office lighting in unoccupied buildings

eliminate “fast junk food”; go to “slow food


Federal Government Actions

Ban gasohol

Rein in the militaries for defense only and outlaw war

Discontinue night baseball

Make electronics, house wares, furniture, etc to be as durable and long-lived as possible

Recycle maximally

Make appliances to be as energy efficient as possible

Discontinue aluminum cans

Ban electric outdoor signs

Maximize solar and wind power;

Change from petroleum based fertilizers to regenerative agriculture

Reverse deforestation, plant more trees

Restrict spray cans

Promote conference calls and web cams, fewer meetings

Promote zero population growth with free condoms and family planning world-wide

End yearly auto model changes;

Proscribe junk mail

Scrap the mission to Mars

Adjust tax laws to limit family size

Promote limiting world population growth

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Too late. We’re less than a century away from being a planet of weeds.

I wonder what would happen if all wars were stopped and the huge amount of gas and bombs and ships and planes and all the war stuff took a time- out for Earth. I wonder how long it would take for the sky to stay blue, or the pines to stop dying, or the creatures from disappearing? WHAT IF-----we should all ask that more of all the politicians and corporations, and the Generals too, who lose all that money, and all of those lives.

I’m not a climate scientist, and don’t claim to know a lot about the subject. I also don’t deny change is happening, I see it in my environment. I do however have problems with the math in this article.

“Every 100 ppm CO2 increase in the atmosphere gives us 100 feet in sea level rise”.

“…since the industrial revolution began, atmospheric CO2 has already increased from 280 to 410 ppm. That’s 130 feet of sea level rise already baked into Earths climate system.”

Since we have not experienced anything close to a 130 foot sea level rise, and 200 years into the revolution, it begs the question…
Is there a delayed affect to this rise, and if so how long. If not, these type of articles gives the climate change deniers, what they perceive, as proof it’s not happening at all.
Any scientific input to explain this would be appreciated.

This might be helpful:
The statement “Every 100 ppm CO2 increase in the atmosphere gives us 100 feet in sea level rise” is apparently based on historical event research, not ‘math’ per se.
The sea level rise time scale is unstated, but “…as the Earth shifted from glacial to interglacial periods…” provides time context of about 50,000 years.
200yrs post industrialisation observation is a mere 1% of the 20Kyr period required for CO2ppm change to fully impact sea level.

Here is a chart indicating the historical relationship of CO2 ppm vs sea level change.
Note sea level change lags CO2 change by around 20,000 yrs due ocean mass related inertia; atmospheric temperature change aligns more closely.
From the chart (Hansen/Makiko Sato), research indicates an even greater historical impact than 100ft /100ppm - more like 100mtr per 100ppm CO2.

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We’re in a transient. We know where the system is going when it finally stabilizes, but the path to get there is not clear. How long will it take? Will the changes be orderly or catastrophic (“tipping points”), we just don’t know.

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There comes a point in all civilizations when they must ask themselves…who are we and what are we doing here ?
We have reached the point of conscious evolution.
How to proceed ; fully observe ,say what’s so and do what works .

We know that the climate is changing because of human behaviours (burning ancient sunlight ,fossil fuels.) Cause .
Effect …creates demise of the speciesystem and possibly another Permian Extinction.

So we put in place what works to stop this …keep all fossil fuels in the ground use current sunlight Solar where we can .Keep global temperatures in balance for life to continue thrive and sustain it for future generations.

It is not scientists that have an agenda it’s everyone who denies the reality ,corporations ,politicians, lobbyists those who benefit from short term profits of keeping things the way they are .
There is no morality here it’s a question of functionality ,what works for the common good, the highest good of all and life .
So the question comes back to all of us ,who are we and what are we doing here on this planet called Earth ?

We Are All One
Humanity’s Team

Thanks John, very helpful.

I’m thinking wording, like in you’re post, should be included in articles about this subject, specifically so climate change deniers can’t use it to refute that it is happening. Thanks.