• All governments lie, but disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke the same hashish they give out.

  • I.F. Stone

vrijdag 4 april 2014

De Mainstream Pers 182

Een natie kan niet zonder een politiek-literaire elite.

Henk Hofland. De toekomst van bedrukt papier. 20 maart 2009

'My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.' So wrote President Barack Obama, back on Jan. 29, 2009, just days into his presidency. 'Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.' Now, six years into the Obama administration, his promise of 'a new era of open Government' seems just another grand promise, cynically broken.

As the news industry observed its annual 'Sunshine Week' in mid-March, The Associated Press reported that '[m]ore often than ever, the administration censored government files or outright denied access to them last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.' The AP report continued, 'The government’s efforts to be more open about its activities last year were their worst since President Barack Obama took office.' […]

In 2008, when campaigning, Barack Obama was often touted as a constitutional-law professor. As such, we can assume he studied writings of one of that document’s authors, James Madison, the fourth president of the U.S., considered the 'Father of the Bill of Rights.' Madison wrote, in 1822, 'A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both.' With Edward Snowden’s revelations of massive NSA spying and surveillance, and the administration’s abysmal record on transparency, President Obama has tragically moved well beyond farce.

Amy Goodman. Barack Obama: The Least Transparent President in History. 26 maart 2014

[H]et grote publiek is minder dan ooit geneigd om de gezagsdragers op hun woord te geloven. De nieuwe, geëmancipeerde internetgebruiker is ervan overtuigd dat hij, ongeacht zijn kennis van zaken, in staat is om zijn eigen conclusies te trekken. En dan komt WikiLeaks met een overstelpende hoeveelheid onthullingen en daarna nog zo’n stortvloed. Valt zo’n chaos van feiten nog te beoordelen, kan er een steekhoudend oordeel over de verantwoordelijken worden uitgesproken? Bestuurders voelen zich in het nauw gedreven, aan de ene kant doordat het onvermijdelijke internet ook een middel tot voorbarige openbaarheid kan zijn, aan de andere kant doordat ze daarmee worden uitgeleverd aan het onmiddellijke oordeel van de dan plotseling goedgelovige massa. De verborgen zwakte van internet is dat het oorzaak kan zijn van een laaiende volkswoede. 
Henk Hofland. De risico’s van de openbaarheid. 1 december 2010

According to the world’s largest assemblage of climate scientists, the view forward is bleak. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says we should expect:

millions of people to be displaced by rising seas and more frequent raging storms;

more droughts, and more intense heat waves, in more places;
extreme shortages of food, fuel, and medicine around the world.

That’s what the IPCC said in its first report, published in 1990. In reports issued every seven years since, including the one out today, it has said the same things, with increasing urgency and certainty.

There are two issues here. One of the unwillingness of the media to just say it straight: world civilization is facing its worst existential crisis ever, and it is self-administered. The other issue is our unwillingness to hear, and act on, this among many other warnings. We’re on the Titanic. We can see the bow is under water, we can hear the engine is stopped, we can feel the water lapping at our ankles. How many official warnings that the ship might sink do we require before we start looking for a lifeboat? […]

The world is heading for a financial crash 'unlike any other,' according to Jeremy Grantham, the legendary hedge-fund manager who predicted the popping of the dot-com bubble and the housing bubble. This particular warning is based on finance, but he has made similar predictions based on the exhaustion of natural resources.

Shortages and high prices of oil will precipitate a crash of the global economy as early as 2015, according to Dr. Jeremy Leggett, a former oil geologist and energy adviser to the government of the U.K.

The lifestyle of western (i.e., industrialized) countries is 'pushing the environment toward crisis,” one that is “hugely threatening to the world,' according to Rowan Williams, recently retired Archbishop of Canterbury.

World oil production is not keeping up with demand, despite the vaunted “boom” in U.S. fracking, and no one knows how to close the gap, according to Louis Powers, a former executive with Exxon and Aramco, now a consultant to the oil business.

A total and irreversible crash of the world economy is likely and imminent, according to a major interdisciplinary study conducted with funding from NASA and the National Science Foundation.

And that’s just in the last 30 days or so. So what if everybody in a crowded theater yelled “Fire!” and still nobody paid any attention?

De 'nieuwe media' met de mening van de bloggers zijn voor een groot deel van de publieke opinie toonaangevend geworden. Dit is de gedigitaliseerde stem des volks,


het machtsgevoel van de ontevredenen vergroot. Nu kunnen ze de wereld in hun wrok laten delen. Deze bloggers zijn de permanent wrokkenden in digitale gedaante.

Henk Hofland. Helemaal gek maken. 10 maart 2010

What you need to know about the latest disastrous Supreme Court decision.

That clanging sound you hear is the Supreme Court, hammering the final nails into democracy’s casket. With Wednesday’s decision in McCutcheon versus FEC, the court has crossed the line protecting the last vestige of campaign finance reform, and making it official: Rule by the rich is now unfettered. Plutocracy’s moment has arrived. How Campaign Money Has Hijacked Our Congress

With Congressional representatives already spending four hours a day on 'call time' (cold-calling donors to plead for campaign funds), and another hour on 'strategic outreach' (meetings with donors), while spending only one to two hours on the work we’re paying them to do, the McCutcheon decision is sure to usher in more time on fundraising. After all, this is a system of bad incentives, where whoever spends more money wins nine out of ten elections. With more money spent on the 2012 election than any previous election in history, the 113th Congress is also the least productive Congress in history.
And how is our current batch of elected telemarketers choosing to spend their time? Fundraising, mostly. Even when they seem to be legislating, Congress is often fundraising.
Alternet. The Supreme Court Just Destroyed Our Democracy in Favor of the Plutocrats. 2 april 2014
Omstreeks deze tijd vieren we de 25ste verjaardag van internet. Ik herinner me de vreugde waarmee de geboorte en de eerste levensjaren gepaard gingen. Eindelijk de totale vrijheid van meningsuiting voor iedereen, democratie voor de hele mensheid, binnen afzienbare tijd alle kennis voor iedereen toegankelijk, enzovoort. Een kwart eeuw later zijn de ware democraten in verontwaardiging en paniek.

Henk Hofland. Klokkenluider. 4 december 2013

Wie zijn volgens Hofland, behalve hijzelf, de 'ware democraten'? Wel, in elk geval niet 'de bloggers,' de 'gedigitaliseerde stem des volks,' en absoluut ook niet het 'digitale lompenproletariaat' die beide 'het machtsgevoel van de ontevredenen' vergroten, en maar al te vaak door hun 'voorbarige openbaarheid' de 'oorzaak' zijn van 'een laaiende volkswoede,' met als gevolg dat de politiek verantwoordelijken 'worden uitgeleverd aan het onmiddellijke oordeel' van de 'goedgelovige massa,' waardoor 'de politiek-literaire elite,' haar werk niet naar behoren kan doen, namelijk het publiek ervan te doordringen wat de officiële waarheid dient te zijn. Met andere woorden: alle individuen die ik sinds 2005 op mijn weblog aan het woord heb gelaten en uitgebreid heb geciteerd zijn geen 'ware democraten.' Velen van hen behoren namelijk niet tot de mainstream 'politiek-literaire elite,' om de simpele reden dat hun informatie de lezer bewust maakt van de niet officieel gesanctioneerde werkelijkheid. Ze vervullen dezelfde functie als de dissidenten in de oude Sovjet-Unie, en veroorzaken met hun 'voorbarige openbaarheid' een 'laaiende volkswoede,' aldus de tot grootste journalist van de twintigste eeuw uitgeroepen H.J.A. Hofland. Zo zijn de kaarten geschud door de 'vrije' polderpers.

Maar nu dan de realiteit van de fundamentalistische consumptiecultuur, die dagelijks wordt gepropageerd door de betaalde woordvoerders van de politieke en economische elite. Het is niet overdreven te stellen dat de kapitalistische democratie onder het neoliberalisme is uitgehold en het economische en politieke bestel in de praktijk neerkomt op een permanente staat van oorlog met de mens en de natuur. Hoflands 'ware democraten' zijn de sociopaten die vijandig staan tegenover samenlevingen die een eigen weg willen volgen en zich weigeren neer te leggen bij de zogeheten Washington consensus, 'het standaard hervormingspakket voor landen getroffen door een economische crisis zoals het werd gepromoot door de in Washington, D.C gevestigde instituten zoals het Internationaal Monetair Fonds (IMF), de Wereldbank en het Amerikaanse Ministerie van Financiën.' Hun politiek werd al in 1970 door de toenmalige Amerikaanse Nationale Veiligheidsadviseur Henry Kissinger in een memo aan president Nixon met de volgende woorden samengevat:

The example of a successful elected Marxist government in Chili would surely have an impact on — and even precedent value for — other parts of the world, especially in Italy; the imitative spread of similar phenomena elsewhere would in turn significantly affect the world balance and our position in it.

De voorbeeldfunctie dat een derde weg mogelijk is, vormt een wezenlijke bedreiging van de Amerikaanse hegemonie en was de belangrijkste reden van Washington om de democratisch gekozen regering Allende in 1973 met geweld ten val te brengen. En dan mag  weliswaar nu nog Henk Hofland beweren dat 'het Westen [vredestichtend]' is en Geert Mak stellen dat de VS 'decennialang als ordebewaker en politieagent' in de wereld optrad, maar dit is niet meer dan platte propaganda voor het thuisfront, terwijl de rest van de wereldbevolking allang uit ervaring weet dat de werkelijkheid 180 graden anders is. Er mag maar één de baas zijn, en dat is Washington. Iedere natie die zich aan zijn alleenheerschappij probeert te onttrekken wordt door de gedisciplineerde massamedia als een gevaar voor de mensheid afgeschilderd en zal op den duur met sancties worden bestraft. Als dat niet helpt wordt grootscheeps terreur ingezet met behulp van de Amerikaanse NAVO. Iran en Rusland staan nu op de lijst. 

Ondertussen is het neoliberale systeem zodanig geglobaliseerd dat vandaag de dag slechts 85 miljardairs even rijk zijn als de helft van de wereldbevolking, 3,5 miljard mensen, die ieder voor zich net wel of juist net niet weten te overleven. Op die manier komen dagelijks 20.000 kinderen van honger om het leven. Wanneer we een propagandist als Henk Hofland moeten geloven dan dienen wij gewone stervelingen te blijven zwijgen en moeten wij de 'elite' niet storen in het handhaven van de status quo waarbij zij onbelemmerd kan doorgaan met het onverzadigbare graaien, want anders geraakt de elite 'in verontwaardiging en paniek.' In plaats van te leren dat zijn generatie haar tijd nu wel heeft gehad en Hofland beschaamt zwijgt over de erbarmelijke erfenis die wordt achtergelaten, heeft hij nog steeds het hoogste woord. Dat kan weliswaar in de polderjournalistiek, maar in 'ware' cultuurlanden is dit een stuk moeilijker, aangezien daar ook een 'ware' intelligentsia actief is, die de beweringen weerleggen van opportunisten zodra die in hun voortdurende wisselende rol van dominee en koopman ten tonele verschijnen. Een voorbeeld. Drie jaar nadat Geert Mak in 2004 in zijn zo geprezen boek In Europa tot de conclusie was gekomen dat 'Europa als vredesproces een eclatant succes [was]' en 'Europa als economische eenheid ook een eind op weg' was, beschreef de Canadese journaliste Naomi Klein in haar boek The Shock Doctrine. The Rise of Disaster Capitalism wat er in werkelijkheid was gebeurd en dagelijks nog aan het gebeuren was. Afgezien van de betrokkenheid van Europa bij het massale westerse geweld in Afghanistan en Irak voltrok zich in de westerse neoliberale economie een soortgelijk shock and awe-proces. In het hoofdstuk The Big Lie schreef Klein over de belangrijkste ideoloog van het 'Disaster Capitalism':  

In the torrent of words written in eulogy to Milton Friedman, the role of shocks and crises to advance his worldview received barely a mention. Instead, the economist's passing provided an occasion for a retelling of the official storey of how his brand of radical capitalism became government orthodoxy in almost every corner of the globe. It is a fairy-tale version of history, scrubbed clean of all the violence and coercion so intimately entwined with this crusade, and it represents the single most successful propaganda coup of the past three decades. The story goes something like this.

Friedman devoted his life to fighting a peaceful battle of ideas against those who believed that governments had a responsibility to intervene in the market to soften its sharp edges. He believed history 'got off on the wrong track' when politicians began listening to John Maynard Keynes, intellectual architect of the New Deal and the modern welfare state. The market crash of 1929 had created an overwhelming consensus that laissez-faire, when Communism conquered the East, the welfare state was embraced by the West and economic nationalism took root in the postcolonial South, Friedman and his mentor, Friedrich Hayek, patiently protected the flame of a pure version of capitalism, untarnished by Keynesian attempts to pool collective wealth to build more just societies.

'The major error, in my opinion,' Friedman wrote in a letter to Pinochet in 1975, was 'to believe that it is possible to do good with other people's money.' Few listened; most people kept insisting that their governments could and should do good. Friedman was dismissively described in Time in 1969 'as a pixie or a pest,' and revered as a prophet by only a select few. 

Finally, after he'd spent decades in the intellectual wilderness, came the eighties and the rule of Margaret Thatcher (who called Friedman 'an intellectual freedom fighter) and Ronald Reagan (who was seen carrying a copy of Capitalism and Freedom, Friedman's manifesto, on the presidential campaign trail). At last there were political leaders who had the courage to implement unfettered free markets in the real world. According to this official story, after Reagan and Thatcher peacefully and democratically liberated their respective markets, the freedom and prosperity that followed were so obviously desirable that when dictatorships started fail;ing, from Manila to Berlin, the masses demanded Reaganomics alongside their Big Macs.

When the Soviet Union finally collapsed, the people of the 'evil empire' were also eager to join the Friedmanite revolution, as were the communists-turned-capitalists in China. That meant that nothing was left to stand in the way of a truly global free market, one in which liberated corporations were not only free in their own countries but free to travel across borders unhindered, unleashing prosperity around the world. There was now a twin consensus about how society should be run: political leaders should be elected, and economies should be run according to Friedman's rules. It was, as Francis Fukuyama said, 'the end of history' — 'the end point of mankind's ideological evolution.' When Friedman died, Fortune magazine wrote that 'he had the tide of history with him'; a resolution was passed in the U.S. Congress praising him as 'one of the world's foremost champions of liberty, not just in economics but in all respects'; the California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, declared January 29, 2007, to be a statewide Milton Friedman Day, and several cities and towns did the same. A headline in the Wall Street Journal encapsulated this tidy narrative: 'Freedom Man.' 

Wat de mainstream media, in handen van grote concerns, verzwegen was dat, volgens wetenschappelijk onderzoek, de neoliberale doctrine de kloof tussen arm en rijk wereldwijd vergrootte en dat een

distinct aspect of rising inequality in the United States is the wage gap between the very highest earners—those in the upper 1.0 percent or even upper 0.1 percent—and other earners, including other high-wage earners. Driving this ever-widening gap is the unequal growth in earnings enjoyed by those at the top. The average annual earnings of the top 1 percent of wage earners grew 156 percent from 1979 to 2007; for the top 0.1 percent they grew 362 percent (Mishel, Bivens, Gould, and Shierholz 2012). In contrast, earners in the 90th to 95th percentiles had wage growth of 34 percent, less than a tenth as much as those in the top 0.1 percent tier. Workers in the bottom 90 percent had the weakest wage growth, at 17 percent from 1979 to 2007.
The large increase in wage inequality is one of the main drivers of the large upward distribution of household income to the top 1 percent, the others being the rising inequality of capital income and the growing share of income going to capital rather than wages and compensation (Mishel and Bivens 2011). The result of these three trends was a more than doubling of the share of total income in the United States received by the top 1 percent between 1979 and 2007 and a large increase in the income gap between those at the top and the vast majority. In 2007, average annual incomes of the top 1 percent of households were 42 times greater than in­comes of the bottom 90 percent (up from 14 times greater in 1979), and incomes of the top 0.1 percent were 220 times greater (up from 47 times greater in 1979).
Waarbij moet worden vermeld dat door de inflatie het reële inkomen van de Amerikaanse werknemer sinds eind jaren zeventig niet is gestegen, een probleem dat tot de kredietcrisis in volle hevigheid uitbrak werd verdoezeld omdat bijna iedereen op grote schaal begon te lenen. Waar waren al die bankpasjes en creditcards anders goed voor? Het resultaat van de kredietcrisis is dat zelfs een aanzienlijk deel van de middenklasse onder of net boven de armoedegrens is beland, een ontwikkeling die nu ook in de rest van de neoliberale westerse wereld te zien is. Vandaar dat de leuze 'Geen Jorwerd zonder Brussel' een illustratie is van de propagandistische vertekening van de werkelijkheid is, aangezien 'Brussel' de neoliberale doctrine in de praktijk brengt. Geert Mak, die drie jaar vóór het begin van de kredietcrisis, dacht dat Europa economisch 'een eind op weg' was, begrijpt nog steeds niet wat er voor zijn ogen gebeurt. Een ander willekeurig voorbeeld is de Volkskrant-columnist Peter de Waard, die op vrijdag 4 april 2014 (de dag dat ik schrijf) in zijn krant opmerkte:
Vanavond reikt Citibank een journalistenprijs uit. Ter gelegenheid daarvan wordt onder leiding van Nout Wellink een debat in Amsterdam gehouden met de tamelijk onzinnige vraag: 'Waarom heeft de journalistiek niet tijdig de crisis zien aankomen?' Evengoed had de vraag kunnen worden gesteld: 'Waarom zijn journalisten geen sterrenwichelaars?' Journalisten hebben geen voorspellende gave, evenmin de centrale bankiers en analisten.
Ik ken het werk van Peter de Waard niet, maar op 's Werelds grootste professionele netwerk Linkedin staat hij als volgt vermeld:
Huidig: verslaggever at Hard Gras, redacteur/verslaggever/columnist at de Volkskrant 
Vorig: journalist at Het Parool, verslaggever at Noordhollands Dagblad
Opleiding: Hogeschool voor Economische Studies Amsterdam (HES)
Samenvatting: Auteur van tien boeken…

Na de 'Hogeschool' is hij via regionale dagbladen tenslotte 'verslaggever' van het voetbaltijdschrift 'Hard Gras' en 'columnist' van de 'Volkskrant' geworden, gespecialiseerd in economische aangelegenheden. In die laatste hoedanigheid constateer ik dat hij een verkeerde voorstelling van zaken geeft, misschien om zichzelf te rechtvaardigen, maar misschien wel omdat hij domweg niet beseft dat de vraag: 'Waarom heeft de journalistiek niet tijdig de crisis zien aankomen?' geenszins een 'tamelijk onzinnige vraag' is. Die vraag is in dit verband juist de enige vraag van belang en heeft helemaal niets te maken met 'sterrenwichelarij' of in een glazen bol kijken, dus een 'voorspellende gave' hebben. Daar draait het niet om, tenzij Peter de Waard op zijn 'Hogeschool voor Economische Studies Amsterdam' niets heeft geleerd over de economie, maar wel veel over de 'astrologie.' Ik bedoel dit: zelfs in de economie kan er sprake zijn van wetmatigheden. Als een economisch systeem onverzadigbare egoïsten de mogelijkheid geeft om met niet bestaand geld miljarden-winsten bijeen te speculeren dan loopt dit een keer spaak. Daar hoeft men geen 'sterrenwichelaar' voor te zijn, een beetje kennis van zaken en een zekere dosis gezond verstand is meer dan voldoende. Als dit inzicht voor Peter de Waard betekent dat een journalist of een bankier een 'voorspellende gave' bezit, zegt dit meer over hemzelf dan over ons vak. Als de 'vrije pers' haar huiswerk had gedaan, in plaats van zich als de spreekbuis had gedragen van de neoliberale macht, dan had zij geweten dat er talloze dissidente deskundigen waren die ruim vóór 2007 hadden gewaarschuwd voor de op handen zijnde kredietcrisis. Zo schreef in 2005 de Britse econoom Harry Shutt in zijn boek The Decline Of Capitalism. Can a Self-Regulated Profits System Survive? het volgende:

Thus as the 1980s unfolded it was increasingly evident that the neoliberal ideology which was supposed to have supplanted the Keynesian model based on extensive state intervention was in fact hopelessly undermined by the private sector’s incurable addiction to public subsidy and protection. Yet the dangerous implications of this reality -- effectively concealed from the majority of the public by an establishment propaganda smokescreen, combined with extensive measures indicating that the frontiers of the state were indeed being rolled back -- were for long scarcely recognized.

Ik weet niet wat collega De Waard in die jaren allemaal schreef, maar ik heb op mijn weblog regelmatig mensen aan het woord gelaten die in de tijd voorafgaand aan de kredietcrisis waarschuwden dat het fout zou gaan, al was het maar omdat, zoals Shutt schreef:

by giving private enterprise, particularly in the financial sector, increased license to create and allocate credit while yet maintaining an implicit or explicit guarantee that the state would underwrite any major losses, the authorities were giving a powerful incentive to irresponsible, or even criminal, behavior. This phenomenon, referred to by the few who have been willing to recognize its existence as ‘moral hazard,’ defines the essentially fraudulent nature of the neoliberal prospectus. For while, as noted above, the corporate, mixed-economy model of the post-war era had always implicitly assumed a trade-off between state support for the private sector and the latter’s obligation to help meet the collective economic goals of the community, the moral hazard model actually provided an incentive to anti-social conduct. Moreover, in a climate of intensifying stagnation, where corporate profitability was ever harder to sustain at minimum acceptable levels, the temptation for corporate managers not merely to allocate funds to excessively risky investment but to resort to outright fraud became increasingly irresistible. 

Met andere woorden: als de 'vrije pers' haar gezond verstand had gebruikt en het feit niet had genegeerd dat men de kat niet consequentieloos op het spek kan binden, dan had zij beseft dat de beurshandel in lucht ineen zou storten. Sterker nog, aangezien de westerse democratieën niets wezenlijks hebben veranderd in deze luchthandel kunnen we nu al met grote zekerheid weten dat dit straks opnieuw fout gaat. De Britse historicus Tony Judt had gelijk toen hij in Ill Fares the Land in 2010 stelde dat

We cannot go on living like this. The little crash of 2008 was a reminder that unregulated capitalism is its own worst enemy: sooner or later it must fall prey to its own excesses and turn again to the state for rescue. But if we do no more than pick up the pieces and carry on as before, we can look forward to greater upheavels in recent years to come. And yet we seem unable to conceive of alternatives. This too is something new... Today, neither Left nor Right can find their footing.

En dat is het ware probleem. De neoliberale doctrine is zo absoluut, zo totaal, dat niemand van de mainstream elite zich een fundamenteel andere werkelijkheid meer kan voorstellen. Zelfs haar verbeeldingskracht is bezet door een totalitair mens- en wereldbeeld. Dat is pas griezelig. Met deze wetenschap in het achterhoofd komt Hoflands bewering dat 'Een natie niet zonder een politiek-literaire elite [kan]' in een geheel ander licht te staan. Watch the parking meters. Later meer over de polder-intelligentsia.

Peter de Waard. Volkskrant: 'Een financiële crisis is moeilijker te voorspellen dan een nieuwe uitbarsting van de Vesuvius waarbij Napels verloren gaat in een aswolk en lavastroom.' 

Ook het onderstaande kan Peter de Waard nu al weten. Maar wat doet hij met die kennis? Negeren, zoals de rest van de westerse mainstream-pers? Of een keertje melden en dan snel weer over iets anders beginnen? Het diepere probleem van de westerse commerciële massamedia is dat het geen context biedt. Bijna alles lijkt bij toeval te gebeuren. Oorzaak en gevolg is voor de gemiddelde journalist geen wetmatigheid.

The Perp in the Greatest Mass Extinction on Earth? Methane

Friday, 04 April 2014 10:47By Gaius PubliusAMERICAblog | News Analysis

publius img(Image: Methane molecules via Shutterstock)
In the past, when I’ve written about climate and mass extinctions, I generally single out two of them — the one 65 million years ago that ended the dinosaur era, and the one about 250 million years ago that killed off almost everything then alive and made room for the dinosaurs to develop.
The dinosaur-killing extinction is called the “Cretaceous–Paleogene (K–Pg) extinction event” since it occurred between the Cretaceous Period and the Paleogene Period. The earlier extinction, also called the “Great Dying,” is the “Permian–Triassic (P–Tr) extinction event” and occurred between those two geological periods.
But starting from the first explosion of life on earth, some 540 million years ago, all geological periods are grouped into just three “eras” — the era of Old Life (Paleozoic Era), the era of Middle Life (Mesozoic Era, or the age of dinosaurs), and the era of New Life (Cenozoic Era, or the age of mammals and man).
The Paleozoic Era lasted over 290 million years. The Mesozoic Era lasted 185 million years. We’re in the Cenozoic Era now, and it’s lasted 65 million years.
Just three major divisions since life first exploded. And guess what divides these eras? The two mass extinctions I mentioned above. Here’s what that looks like in one handy chart:
Mass Extinctions since the Cambrian Period (540 million years ago)Mass Extinctions since the Cambrian Period (about 540 million years ago)

So yes, mass extinctions — certainly mass extinctions of this size — matter. As I argued here and here, we may not using our little climate problem just to exit the Holocene (our current 12,000-year geological division). We may be exiting the entire Cenozoic Era. Now that’s a world-historical event.
The Great Dying Was Probably Caused by Atmospheric Methane
So the first part of today’s piece to keep in mind is the major geological divisions. And make no mistake, the Great Dying was a great dying, the mother of all great dyings (my emphasis everywhere):
 It is the Earth’s most severe known extinction event, with up to 96% of all marinespecies and 70% of terrestrial vertebrate species becoming extinct. It is the only known mass extinction of insects. Some 57% of all families and83% of all genera became extinct. Because so much biodiversity was lost, the recovery of life on Earth took significantly longer than after any other extinction event, possibly up to 10 million years. [Other sources say 30 million years.]
Now the second part of this discussion. People have been puzzled about the cause for a long time, and how it managed to be so … effective. Turns out that researchers at MIT may have found the answer — atmospheric methane. It’s the only explanation that fits the facts, and there’s much evidence to support it. Given the factual data that’s been assembled about the event, all of the other, previously-thought-plausible explanations have to be dismissed. Not one of the others could explain the combination of facts now known.
Let’s look at this from two sources, MIT and a separate write-up of their research. The MIT publication is informative, but the other is more clear for the lay reader. First, from the MIT news office:
Methane-producing microbes may be responsible for the largest mass extinction in Earth’s history.
Evidence left at the crime scene is abundant and global: Fossil remains show that sometime around 252 million years ago, about 90 percent of all species on Earth were suddenly wiped out — by far the largest of this planet’s five known mass extinctions. But pinpointing the culprit has been difficult, and controversial.
Now, a team of MIT researchers may have found enough evidence to convict the guilty parties — but you’ll need a microscope to see the killers.
The perpetrators, this new work suggests, were not asteroids, volcanoes, or raging coal fires, all of which have been implicated previously. Rather, they were a form of microbes — specifically, methane-producing archaea called Methanosarcina — that suddenly bloomed explosively in the oceans, spewing prodigious amounts of methane into the atmosphere and dramatically changing the climate and the chemistry of the oceans.
Volcanoes are not entirely off the hook, according to this new scenario; they have simply been demoted to accessories to the crime. The reason for the sudden, explosive growth of the microbes, new evidence shows, may have been their novel ability to use a rich source of organic carbon, aided by a sudden influx of a nutrient required for their growth: the element nickel, emitted by massive volcanism at just that time.
The new solution to this mystery is published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science by MIT professor of geophysics Daniel Rothman, postdoc Gregory Fournier, and five other researchers at MIT and in China.
Now William Costolo at the Guardian Liberty Voice
The ocean swarm of micro-organisms was the byproduct of volcanic eruptions which threw off the substance nickel. The nickel from the volcanoes provided the metabolic fuel necessary for the bloom to occur. Scientists previously suspected that the volcano eruptions themselves caused the horrific killing, but the MIT researchers determined that the volcanoes alone would not have created enough atmospheric carbon dioxide to cause the mass extinction. The carbon dioxide must have come from another source.
Further research indicated to the scientists that the source of the carbon dioxide was derived from a biological source. The carbon dioxide levels would have receded faster if derived only from the volcanoes. The rich source of nickel available from the volcanos was just the right fuel for the tiny methane producing killing machines to consume the carbon in the ocean floors and proliferate in rapid fashion.
The analysis of genome material provided the necessary clues to the researchers. The Methanosarcina acquired a genetic trait from another microscopic organism which allowed them to quickly produce the poison gas under the right conditions. The vast store of carbon in the oceans together with the volcanic nickel provided the perfect storm of material required for a gigantic methane plume. The tiny organisms followed their genetic programming to reproduce quickly and throw off a massive amount of poison gas.
Except for his use of the term “poison gas” (living things weren’t “poisoned”), this is a clear explanation of the relationship between the massive volcanoes, the nickel, the microbes, and the methane. The killing happened in relatively short order, driven by the massive volcanoes.
The mass kill off, known as the Permian extinction, had its roots in the volcanoes of the Siberian Traps. The lava flows were so large they would have covered a land area larger than the United States. The atmosphere remained poisoned for over 100,000 years. The earth did not regenerate diverse life for another 30,000,000 years. The length of time the atmosphere remained poisoned was a clue to the researchers that the volcanoes alone could not have caused the killing catastrophe.
Why does methane have such a powerful effect? Read on.
Methane Is Far More Powerful Than CO2 at Trapping Heat
Why does methane’s greenhouse effect last so long? Partly because atmospheric methane degrades to CO2 by a fairly simple formula:
CH4 + 2 O2 → CO2 + 2 H2O
So while methane itself produces its own huge greenhouse gas effects (see below for the relative scale), it then disappears and leaves longer-lived CO2 in its place to do further greenhouse damage. CO2 doesn’t break down; it has to be extracted by some process, such as plant activity, dissolving into the ocean, and so on.
Atmospheric methane in sufficient quantity is a real problem, greenhouse-wise. The combined effect of the methane bomb and the resulting CO2 is what the MIT researchers say accounts for both the scale of the Great Dying and the 30-million-year recovery period. To give a sense of relative effects of these two greenhouse gases:
While more than half of the CO2 emitted is removed from the atmosphere within a century, some fraction (about 20%) of emitted CO2 remains in the atmosphere for many thousands of years.
In contrast, methane is more powerful, but shorter lived in the atmosphere:
Methane has an atmospheric lifetime of 12 ± 3 years and a GWP [global warming potential] of 72 over 20 years, 25 over 100 years and 7.6 over 500 years. The decrease in GWP at longer times is because methane is degraded to water and CO2 through chemical reactions in the atmosphere.
In all cases, the GWP number is relative to CO2. That is, CO2 is artifically assigned a GWP of “1″ and the GWP of other greenhouse gases is either a multiple or a fraction of that.
It gets worse. (1) That 20-year methane GWP number is likely low. This site says that the GWP of methane could be 10–40% low when indirect interactions are taken into account. I’ve seen estimates of methane’s 20-yeargreenhouse effect as high as 100 times that of CO2. And (2) that’s the 20-year effect. Methane lasts for 12 years on average. What do you think its effect is in the first 5–10 years, as a global warming accelerator?
Kind of explains the Great Dying, yes? Boom, the methane bomb goes off, and everything changes.
We’re Melting a Methane Bomb in the Arctic
Which brings us to the fourth part of this discussion. So why do we care? Because we’re sitting on a “methane bomb” in the Arctic region — frozen, sequestered methane locked into the permafrost both on land and in the ocean, and climate change (global warming) is releasing it. NOAA (my emphasis):
[Methane hydrates] have also been proposed as major agents of climate change. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, ten times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. But the volume of this gas now in the atmosphere pales next to that currently sequestered in hydrates, estimated at ten thousand billion tons (about 3,000 times the amount of methane as the atmosphere).
Let that sink in. The methane in the permafrost is 3000 times the amount of methane already in the atmosphere. And don’t let that “ten times as effective at trapping heat” fool you. That’s the average over 100 years. Methane only lasts about 12 years before it’s gone. When it starts out, before it breaks down, it’s likely a hundred times more effective than CO2. Or as the NOAA site above puts it:
A methane build-up will greatly enhance the intensified greenhouse effect that is driving global warming, and could cause the temperature to rise even higher, and to rise quickly.
As we reported earlier, this gives a sense of the scale of the methane melt. Coming off the floor of the ocean, methane reverts to a gas and forms “plumes” — literally torch-shaped structures created by water pressure — that rise to the surface. These plumes have been observed and measured for a fair number of years, and their recent growth in size and number is astonishing:
Vast methane ‘plumes’ seen in Arctic ocean as sea ice retreats.
Dramatic and unprecedented plumes of methane – a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide [over a 100-year timespan] – have been seen bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean by scientists undertaking an extensive survey of the region.
The scale and volume of the methane release has astonished the head of the Russian research team who has been surveying the seabed of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf off northern Russia for nearly 20 years. …
“Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. This is the first time that we’ve found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures more than 1,000 metres in diameter. It’s amazing,” Dr Semiletov said.
“I was most impressed by the sheer scale and the high density of the plumes. Over a relatively small area we found more than 100, but over a wider area there should be thousands of them,” he said.
Let’s put that “1000 meters” into something Americans understand. These giant plumes are over half a mile wide. Not a half mile high — a half mile wide. Compared to their earlier observations, the plumes are now 100 times larger in just a few years. And yes, he did say there were likely “thousands of them.”
The Path of Deterioration Will Contain Sudden Collapses as Well as Gradual Declines
Which leads to just two final thoughts, and then I’ll close.
First, just because the effects of climate change have been mostly gradual until now, doesn’t mean that gradual is all we’ll get. As I wrote recently:
But there’s no reason to assume that there won’t be sudden collapses as well, sudden discontinuities, the way a steady dribble of small chunks of ice might fall from a Greenland glacier into the sea, then suddenly a piece the size of Ohio splits and floats away, lost, never to come back. A discontinuity, a break from the gradual.
Discontinuities work in the social sphere as well, in the sphere of confidence and panic. As I’ll show you shortly, the first major (white) American city to end its life forever following a Haiyan-sized hurricane — Miami, for example — will cause a collapse in American confidence in the future that will never return. That loss of confidence and the panic that will result is a collapse as well, a discontinuity, fear the size of Ohio breaking the population from its safe assumptions and presumed security.
The Great Dying was a collapse, the largest in the history of life on the planet, though a slower paced one, since the volcanoes took a million years to fully erupt. Still, a massive methane proliferation caused it, and the initial effects must have been massive, since microbes grow and proliferate very quickly indeed (think “algae bloom”). If we succeed in getting most of the Arctic methane into the air in, say, 50 years, that will cause a collapse as well, and one at the geologic timescale of a nanosecond. Keep those thousands of half-mile wide plumes, rising through the ocean, in mind. A two-degree jump in warming, say, in only a few decades, would have huge consequences for anyone alive at the time — it would collapse the livability of the planet to a fraction of itself.
Second, all of this means that we really really need to take the timeline seriously, assume that we have far less time than we think we have, and act now. There’s a reason I’m being so aggressive lately about the need for a “Zero Carbon” + energy rationing regime (click for a short description) to get us off of all energy sources that produce greenhouse gases.
I don’t think I’m exaggerating the danger. The sudden ice ages discussed in this videooccurred within decades of a warming event — yes, glacial ice just decades after a global warming event. That’s a collapse, and that’s sudden.
My ask of you is this. If you write, write this. We can’t allow our “leaders” — leash-holders might be a better term — to lead us to think the unicorn dream of “carbon neutral” will save us. “Carbon neutral” means the carbon car never stops, it just fails to accelerate. That doesn’t mean the climate itself won’t accelerate in its deterioration. Remember, there will be sudden collapses.
If you don’t write, you still have “reach.” Everyone who reads this has some reach. Please use it. People need to be told now, ahead of the inevitable panic that (1) we need to stop, not slow down; and (2) we can stop. We just have to.
I know many of your friends and associates won’t take you seriously … now. But they will, once the freak-out starts for real. Social panic is like a lynch mob. It starts suddenly and burns like a wildfire. Once the panic starts, people will need to have been already told points (1) and (2) above. After all, Lying Pantsuit Lady (i.e., the Exxon / methane industry spokesperson) is already telling your friends that the choice is carbon or no TV. She’s right, of course, but she’s selling the carbon. We should be messaging just as hard, so when they are ready to listen, they’ll have already heard what the answer is.
One last note — I hear people get depressed when they take this stuff seriously. Don’t. There’s a lot of ball game left, no collapse yet, still time on the clock, and lots of ways to mitigate. I’m personally excited by the idea that we can stillget positioned for a chance opening, a good opportunity to make a big change.
Remember — winners know not to give up, just in case god has a gift in hand. Play to the whistle. After all, didn’t lowly Auburn beat Alabama, back when earth was cooler?
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Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States. Click here for more. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius and Facebook.


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Permafrost is permanently frozen soil, and occurs mostly in high latitudes. Permafrost comprises 24% of the land in the Northern Hemisphere, and stores massive amounts of carbon. As a result of climate change, permafrost is at risk of melting, releasing the stored carbon in the form of carbon dioxide and methane, which are powerful heat-trapping gases. In addition, permafrost is structurally important, and its melting has been known to cause erosion, disappearance of lakes, landslides, and ground subsidence. It will also cause changes in plant species composition at high latitudes.