Sunday Sermon: Not So Good For A Dry Run

Coronavirus can be thought of as a dry run for how well organized human civilization responds to a global natural disaster. I’m not counting WWI and WWII as “natural disasters” – in fact, they were more like dry runs, too; another chance for concerted and sensible human response to a crisis and another opportunity lost.

What’s being tested is the nationalist system – the current way humans organize themselves into opposing and cooperating groups at a large scale, and I don’t think it’s working very well. Nationalism has allowed us to build geographic units with integrated economies, connected into a global web that is an ad hoc economy. There have been warning signs, there, for a long time – as much as we laud the idea of “markets” we are equally careful to ignore the fact that global trade is often marred by “sanctions” and similar state-sponsored economic blockades based on the rightness of might.

The whole premise of the global order is that governments exist, bound in a mutual obligation with “their” people according to some kind of social contract. But the social contract looks more like an uneasy truce than an agreement among equals. Today, authoritarian regimes dominate the globe, with more societies (the US, Turkey, and Hungary) joining China and Russia as stealth dictatorships or oligarchies. The idea (if it ever was an idea) that governments are a convenient way to coordinate and organize doesn’t seem to be correct; it’s more “divide and conquer” by the ruling classes. Within the US, specifically, the ridiculous system of semi-independent federated states has clearly served to “divide and conquer” and the federal government can’t seem to keep the states from doing whatever they can to promote various forms of ridiculous religious, racial, or social inequality. The entire global political order is a joke – a squabbling and useless gaggle of gangsters who have nuclear weapons and militaries that don’t know how to defend and know only how to attack.

Florida becomes an unofficial “right to die” state.

Covid comes along and the international system hiccups, then falls into dysfunction as the various governments respectively pursue different and sometimes nonsensical agendas. Of course Covid is bad for business, but the Chinese eventually discover that lying about it is worse. The US is still in the process of discovering that, and the dysfunction is fractally complex: they are running out of body bags in New York City but the dipshits in the Florida legislature open the beach and complain that Spring Break was ruined by an excess of caution. Conservative submissives protest that their right to infect each other is being infringed, not realizing that their right to infect each other was not on the table – it was their right to infect everyone else. The US is reaping the dragons’ teeth it has been sowing when it began building schools that were separate but unequal, spawning generations of ignorami, and created a corporate-owned media that is nothing more than a propaganda arm for rich chucklefucks’ idee fixe du jour. In Korea, offshoot christian cultists spread the virus while proselytizing internationally, in Sweden they stubbornly pretend everything is normal while across a bridge the country next door is locked down. It’s as if there’s a global contest to see who can be the dumbest rock in the bag, and then Donald Trump opens his mouth and rakes in all the chips.

Remember, except for the governments which are propped up by naked force, the premise is that they are here to protect and organize the people, to coordinate and collaborate as necessary, to foster human well-being and to maintain the laws. Wow, it was hard to type that without slamming my face into the desk repeatedly. But, seriously, that’s what they say, and we’ve got no choice but to pretend to believe it.

Because all of this is a dry run. What is coming down the pike is going to be vastly worse. The climate has changed and recent research indicates that the rate at which CO2 is entering the atmosphere mimics the rate at which it entered the atmosphere during the Permian Extinction. [mit] Of course, the CO2 plumes that triggered the Permian Extinction were probably volcanic in origin, and went on for hundreds or even thousands of years, but you’ve got to agree we stupid little humans are giving Mother Nature a great big fist in the nose, aren’t we? When humanity encountered SARS in 2002, governments did the same thing that they tried to with Covid: keep tourism bustling and pretend nothing is happening. That was also a dry run. Governments actually did what they were supposed to and planned for similar disasters, but then the budget cutters, you know, the DoD needs more money and all the science stuff doesn’t seem to be helping anything… When the hurricanes and flooding begin gobbling more cities, governments will say “we never expected this!” in spite of decades of warnings and decades of kicking the can down the road so someone else can deal with it.

While the causes of this global catastrophe are unknown, an MIT-led team of researchers has now established that the end-Permian extinction was extremely rapid, triggering massive die-outs both in the oceans and on land in less than 20,000 years – the blink of an eye in geologic time. The researchers also found that this time period coincides with a massive buildup of atmospheric carbon dioxide, which likely triggered the simultaneous collapse of species in the oceans and on land.

With further calculations, the group found that the average rate at which carbon dioxide entered the atmosphere during the end-Permian extinction was slightly below today’s rate of carbon dioxide release into the atmosphere due to fossil fuel emissions. Over tens of thousands of years, increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide during the Permian period likely triggered severe global warming, accelerating species extinctions.

The researchers also discovered evidence of simultaneous and widespread wildfires that may have added to end-Permian global warming, triggering what they deem “catastrophic” soil erosion and making environments extremely arid and inhospitable.

The report is based on some cool science. 20,000 years is probably not achievable by humans, because humans’ efforts to shit up the atmosphere will be self-limiting, but we’ve managed to put the atmosphere on the same CO2 ramp, and that’s quite a dubious achievement. Be careful not to whisper about it near Donald Trump or he’ll start tweeting about how great the Permians were, he knew them when he lived in New York and they had the best ever parties.

The group collected clay samples from ash beds both above and below rock layers from the PTB. In the lab, they separated out zircon, a robust mineral that can survive intense geological processes. Zircon contains trace amounts of uranium, which can be used to date the rocks in which it is found. Bowring and his colleagues analyzed 300 of the “best-looking” grains of zircon, and found the rocks above and below the mass-extinction period spanned only a 20,000-year phase.

Bowring says now that researchers are able to precisely date the end-Permian extinction, scientists will have to re-examine old theories. For example, many believe the extinction may have been triggered by large volcanic eruptions in Siberia that covered 2 million square kilometers of Earth – an area roughly three times the size of Texas.


“The rate of injection of CO2 into the late Permian system is probably similar to the anthropogenic rate of injection of CO2 now,” Rothman says. “It’s just that it went on for … 10,000 years.”

We won’t be doing that. Because, to do something like that would take a massive, coordinated effort – and humans and human governments just don’t accomplish things at that level. On the downside, we can’t seem to accomplish the kind of massive, coordinated effort it would take to respond to a pandemic, let alone collapsing agricultural systems and attendant starvation, flooding, and drought. I’m not trying to downplay the severity of the coronavirus but, basically, the solution is social distancing, isolating the infected, hunkering down and working to develop a vaccine. What’s coming from global climate change does not improve when you hunker down; we’re going to face a choice similar to the one the governments are facing: shut it all down, or have a solution. Wow, think how much money would have been saved (and made!) if someone had kept working on speeding up the process of developing vaccines when SARS flickered across our screens as a sort of dry run? Washington just threw trillions of dollars at a bunch of rich people in an attempt to kickstart the economy, but the real way to deal with that sort of problem is not to build a collapsible economy based on shit jobs and shell corporations. Remember, these are the assholes who said a “Green New Deal” was too expensive, and that free markets are everything – until a virus blew a hole below the waterline of their free market and suddenly fiat currency and “fire up the printing press!” become the order of the day.

Remember the Kyoto and Paris accords? They were set to try to limit CO2 release to a level that would result in only a projected rise of something below 2 degrees celsius. From there, the governments of the world immediately started to cheat in every possible and significant way. The US declared that its military “does not count” against its carbon footprint, because we’re the USA, and since regulation had gotten thin, frackers began blowing off huge plumes of methane and nitrous oxide. But the US couldn’t even keep up that pretense; it’s time to hunker in place and hope the thing blows over – which isn’t going to work if you hunker in New York, Boston, Miami, or Los Angeles. The rest of the world is going to suffer disproportionately because they didn’t land-grab as much real estate as we did and they’re going to be up against the borders of formerly friendly, now hostile, members of the international system. When the IPCC made its estimate curves for CO2, there was one labeled “worst case scenario” that heads for a 6-8 degree celsius temperature increase; that’s the one we’re on. 4 degrees C is inevitable, already; it’s not as though slamming on the brakes would stop this trolley car from going where it’s headed, it’s going to happen.

We’re so fucked that it almost seems like it makes sense to join Trump and his ilk, as they wallow in stupidity and denial. Not that that’s going to help, either. It just saves some effort. Covid is another dry run opportunity for the governments of the world to show their wisdom and resolve in the face of a global crisis. This does not look like a win.


  1. chigau (違う) says

    I used to think I’d die of old age before it got really bad.
    Now I’m not so sure.

  2. says

    I used to think I’d die of old age before it got really bad.
    Now I’m not so sure.

    Me too. Looks like the late-boomers are going to get stuck in the window as it slams down. The boomer generation gets to slide into the grave among lamentations and plaudits.

  3. jrkrideau says

    I keep seeing this type of statement:
    but the Chinese eventually discover that lying about it is worse.
    Do we have any evidence of this? That the “Chinese”, whoever they may be, lied about SARS-CoV-2?

    So far, all I have seen is the flat accusation often coming from xenophobic, racist, politicians and parroted by the stenographic media. The worst, of course, are Trump and members of his cabal such as Pompeo saying anything that they think will help divert attention from their complete failure to deal with the pandemic.

  4. says

    Do we have any evidence of this? That the “Chinese”, whoever they may be, lied about SARS-CoV-2?

    I don’t believe there was a major effort to suppress news about what was going on, but it does seem that the government was reluctant (they all are) to announce that there was an outbreak and close things down until it was too late. I’d say that the failure was the same sort but to a lesser degree than the Trumpistas have now done. “Here, hold my beer.”

    Today’s news cycle is pretty brutal. If Wuhan was experiencing an outbreak in December and there really wasn’t any reporting about it until mid/late January, I’d say there was some news suppression, or downplaying, or spin-doctoring, or whatever you want to call it. [The Torontovians did pretty much the same thing with SARS: “we’re still a great tourist destination, y’all come!”]

  5. publicola says

    Man, that’s depressing. What really kills me is that my son and all children of the boomers and later are going to suffer so greatly for our misdeeds.

  6. jrkrideau says

    @ 6 Marcus
    If Wuhan was experiencing an outbreak in December and there really wasn’t any reporting about it until mid/late January,

    Very crude timeline
    December 26 – Dr. Zhang Jixian in Wuhan encountered four patients with pneumonia different from other pneumonia.

    December 27 – Dr. Zhang Jixian reported these cases to hospital leadership.

    December 29 – The hospital reported the disease to Wuhan CDC.

    December 31 – China reported the unknown disease to WHO.

    January 7 – China On January 7, 2020, China confirmed the SARS-CoV-2 virus (not under that name) to WHO and various countries including the United States.

    As an aside but one that seems relevant
    On January 15, 2020, the Public Health Agency of Canada activated the Emergency Operation Centre to support Canada’s response to COVID-19.

    To say that there was “there really wasn’t any reporting about it until mid/late January” seems a US fiction.

    The infection, clearly, started earlier and in hindsight I believe the Wuhan Public Health people think that may first have manifested itself in mid-November or early December but was not recognized. Presumably, Wuhan hospitals were dealing with the annual flu epidemic, as most of the northern hemisphere does, and until Doctor Zhang Jixian encountered a small cluster of anormal ” flu” patients, the significance of the unusual symptoms were not recognized.

  7. lorn says

    My frustration is the very simple understanding that virtually nothing about living in these Unites States needs to be so complicated, hard, demeaning, time consuming. That basic human needs are just not that complicated or demanding. Essentially, beyond the very basic needs of food, water, shelter, etc our needs are simply to know and to be known, to love and be loved, and to have work that is useful to ourselves and others. Make all that happen regularly for most people and you have relatively healthy and happy society. It just isn’t all that complicated or difficult.

    Of course, while the basics are simple enough the details get messy. I keep coming back to a George Carlin routine where he asks the crowd if there is anyone in the crowd who is hungry and then asks that they be fed. It all gets easier if the basics of life are covered. I really have no preference for how they are covered. If communism works then fine. If capitalism works then fine enough. Every system has its strengths and weaknesses. The “free-market capitalism” model has issues around free-markets never being free, major actors are always manipulating markets, and capitalism demanding not just profits but endlessly increasing profits is simply destructive in the long run.

    As one analyst framed it that we have healthcare because we simply can’t do it for ourselves and our families. So patients and providers are separate. which allows in middlemen who act as gatekeepers and toll takers. But then more middlemen move in. And before long we end up where we are now: What started as a system optimized for getting healthcare to patients has been optimized for profits with delivery of healthcare as secondary. The general population is sicker but … wait for it … profits have never been higher.

    The good news is that we really know a lot about what doesn’t work and how things fail. The saying is that failure is the best teacher. I hope. We need a really good teacher. Because we have a lot to learn.

    None of these systems need to be so complicated. I would like to see the good guys win big once in my lifetime. I’m too old to wait. Too much needless pain and suffering. Too much needless complication and too many middlemen. I’m tired and don’t think I can stand four more years of conservative rule where money and the power of money is the only point to existence.

    As I said, humans don’t really need much in the way of material resources. And we need very little psychologically. Money isn’t even on the list. Seems the means has become the ends. Though I don’t know what or how; it seems there is something in that.

    I’m tired. Time for a nap.

  8. says

    chigau (#1) –
    This is one of the reasons people chose to be Childfree. If it’s just me who sffers and dies, I at least had a lkfe. I and others won’t have to explain to kids why we knew this was coming and still brought them into existence.

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