Sunday, 13 October 2019

Extinction Inspiration! Or, thoughts on global warming and social collapse to come

My friend Jeremy Parker asked me to write a brief article on global warming and what it means to me for his group, Extinction Rebellion.

Unfortunately, brevity was not exactly possible, as you can see.

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Towards the end of Alan Moore's comic book "Neonomicon", the protagonist, FBI agent Merrill Brears, becomes pregnant; she is, actually, gravid with none other than Great Cthulhu. Visiting the incarcerated serial killer and former FBI agent Aldo Sax, she tells him about it, and mentions that "we (humans) are pretty much vermin", and that when Cthulhu is born he will do something about us.

Cthulhu, unfortunately, is not real, and even Moore's comic is set in an alternate universe, with minor differences from this one. But if humans are vermin, the proof is all around us.

Recently, in Mumbai, India, government officials took a decision to destroy a forest, Aarey Forest, to set up a metro station. The reason given by environment ministry officials to agree to this destruction was that the meeting was in Marathi so they could not understand what was being said. This is less than a convincing reason.  In any case, after over two thousand trees were chopped down, in the face of public protests (the protestors were summarily arrested by police, of course, though the protests were peaceful), the Supreme Court finally told the government not to cut down any more.

Meanwhile, the march to strip the planet of all its usable resources not just continues but is accelerating. In Brazil the Bolsonaro regime has stated its "right" to destroy the Amazon rainforest if it wants to. In Australia the Great Barrier Reef is being murdered. Even the old leash on capitalist greed, the economics of exploitation, has been abandoned in the case of the shale oil industry in America. Even if we ignore the destruction of bedrock and contamination of groundwater by fracking,  shale oil is far more expensive to extract than it fetches in terms of profit. In the past, therefore, it would not have been extracted. Now, however, the only thing that capitalism cares about is the shortest term profit, expressed in the next quarterly report. The people making the decisions no longer care the slightest bit about the long term future of their own companies, let alone the state of the planet; long before the loan repayments become due, they'll have taken their obscene salaries and bonuses and moved on to another job anyway.

Therefore, in the modern capitalist neoliberal system, we can not depend on anything at all to put the brakes on runaway greed. Corporations that have given themselves a legal requirement to seek profit by any "legal" means do not care about what you, I, or the man next door might think. If we get obstreperous enough to be a nuisance, they have ways to get rid of us. They can unleash the police as on the Aarey Forest protestors, they can call them "economic terrorists" (with ties to, who else, Russia) if they block pipeline routes, or, if all else fails, they can simply manufacture a "controlled opposition" to act as a gatekeeper channelling protests to eye catching but harmless (to them) and ultimately pointless directions.

I am not one of the fans of Ms Greta Thunberg; while I admire her personal sincerity and her determination to make herself heard, I am one hundred percent certain that she is being used as part of this controlled opposition. That she got the publicity denied the ecological defenders literally paying with their lives, such as in Central America, is proof enough if any was needed. Hence I will ignore her and Extinction Rebellion in the rest of this article. At best, they are irrelevant; at worst, they are part of the entire syndrome. (Sorry, Mr Parker!)

Meanwhile, we are faced with three major truths that nobody wants to talk about. These are:

First, the fact that global warming has become locked in a vicious cycle, where it has achieved the  status of a self-perpetuating monster, not unlike an avalanche rolling down one of the increasingly few mountains that still have snow. As the Siberian permafrost melts, for instance, huge amounts of methane are released into the atmosphere, which in turn increases the trapping of solar heat, in turn melting more permafrost, in turn increasing the methane released, and so on. The Antarctic and Arctic ice melt faster, raising sea levels, forcing people to migrate from coastal regions, compelling them to use whatever they can find as fuel for such essentials as cooking, in turn releasing more carbon dioxide into the air, and so on and on. Fanciful plans for creating "sustainable energy" will be overtaken long before they get anywhere, certainly before they become effective and widespread enough to make a difference. In fact, as things stand, even if we were to stop all fossil fuel use completely today, some of these factors are already out of control and can no longer be reined in.

Secondly, as long as humans insist on living as though they can continue to live and consume as they have been doing, there is no hope. Even as birthrates plummet in the "global North" (with concomitant racist rants alleging a conspiracy to commit a "white genocide"), birth rates are still rising in much of Africa and politicians in countries like Uganda and Tanzania are claiming that they are not rising fast enough. The planet is not compartmented into airtight segments. The cause may be in one continent today (more people, meaning more need for food, meaning more land cleared for cultivation) but that means more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of the entire planet and in turn means more global warming.

Not that the Africans (or Indonesians, or North Indians, or Pakistanis) can altogether be blamed for their explosive breeding. For poor people , and by poor I mean literally surviving day to day, the only way to hedge against the future is to breed a lot of children. Even if three or four of them die before reaching adulthood, another five or six might survive, and of those, one or two might be kind enough to take care of you in your old age. What other options do you have? To starve in the gutter?

Ironically, these poor are poor in large part due to the same high standards of living that permit the "global Northerners" to be able to afford to have fewer children. They have shifted much of their manufacturing to the "third world", they have shifted the sourcing of just about all the resources they need for all their manufacturing to the same "third world", they have even made a practice of exporting their rubbish to that same "third world"; and to make certain that this will continue, they have foisted venal puppets as rulers in that "third world". Can anyone believe that they'll want to stop living in the way that they have become accustomed, and in the way that they have presented as an ideal for aspiring people across the planet, so as to stop global warming, something that much of their information sources are busy brainwashing them into believing is not a real thing at all? And since their capitalist societies are run by corporations hunting for any way to make a profit, looking for more, not less, consumption, how exactly do you think it might be possible?

Thirdly, the effects of mass migration. We have already seen a small sample as a result of the terrorist aggression against Syria and the NATO destruction of Libya. As resources run out, including potable water, sea levels rise, food becomes scarce and the heat literally kills, people will start moving towards any possible direction that might offer even a temporary haven. They will move in gigantic numbers, and they will be very well armed and willing to fight. What happens when they come up against "global North" countries determined to not let them in? I'm not talking about the "invasion" by a paltry million or two unarmed and helpless refugees that is already causing so much heartburn and right wing politics in Europe. I am talking about an actual invasion by tens or hundreds of millions of armed and desperate people looking for safety, who will be more than willing to eliminate anyone standing in the way. What happens then, air strikes on them using tactical nukes? Burning them with napalm and white phosphorus? Chemical warfare? Let me remind you that the effects of Agent Orange are still being felt in Vietnam, and that warfare is one of the most environmentally destructive forces on the planet.

Refugee boat: The ship of things to come.


Therefore, taking all these factors together, I do not think a mass population collapse, probably a civilisational collapse, can be prevented. Possibly human extinction cannot be prevented. This is, actually, not at all a bad thing. As Agent Brears said to Sax, we are vermin, and vermin need extermination.

We have done enough damage. The earth has survived mass extinctions in the past, and will survive them again. But in the past they were happenstance; this is the first one that will be because of a species' greed and its conviction that nothing can possibly erase it from the pages of history. And the faster we die off, the fewer species we drag down with us. That's a good thing, right?

Like the proverbial frog in the slow boiling pot, the water is already too hot to escape. At best the damage can be restricted to not too fatal (to the rest of the planet) burns.

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Note to readers: I'm back, I'm cartooning, and I will begin writing again. The last few months were horrible, and I have no great hopes from the next few, but, at least, writing and drawing are things I can do.

Special mention to my friend Charlie Ehlen who dropped a response to my cartoon blog showing me that he still cared. I am writing again, Charlie, in great part for you.

Friday, 19 April 2019

Sunday, 31 March 2019

New Parasitic Wasp Discovered


Rueters, 1st April 2019

By Kanmani Ponnu

With additional reporting by Peppa Chamatthu

Researchers at the Department of Parasitology, Hops Johnkins Medical Institute, Washington DC, today announced that they had found a major new parasite of human nervous systems.

The creature is the larva of a microscopic wasp, the smallest ever discovered, smaller than some single celled organisms. It has yet to be issued a formal biological name, but the Hops Johnkins Parasitology Department has shortlisted one for consideration.

“The animal is truly remarkable,” the head of the Department of Parasitology, Dr Hector Oaks, told Rueters over the telephone. “Not only is it so small, but its mode of infection is more like a virus than an animal.”

The parasite, Dr Oaks said, is, like other wasps and bees, a member of the order Hymenoptera of Class Insecta, Phylum Arthropoda, the group that includes butterflies and cockroaches, crabs and lobsters, spiders and millipedes. It is the larva of the adult, which itself is so tiny as to be invisible to the naked eye.

“The adult wasp,” Dr Oaks said, “has evolved drastically away from the original form but only in size; it can still handily be recognised for what it is under the microscope. It is, however, the larva that is parasitic. This larva, which is white, is sharply curved except for its tail end, so that it closely resembles a sickle in shape. It is so tiny that it can enter the body of the nerve cells, the neurons, and gestate inside them before moving to other cells.

The female, winged, wasp (above), compared to single celled animals, and the wingless male (below)



“This animal,” Dr Oaks continued, “has developed parasitic tactics hitherto unknown among other multicellular organisms. The wasp lays its eggs on the surface of a person’s skin. The larva hatches on the skin, and crawls down the duct of a sweat gland until it reaches the inner skin layer, the dermis. There it bores its way out of the sweat gland and crawls around until it finds a neuron, which, of course, is not difficult since the skin is richly supplied with nerve endings. It bores its way into the neuron with its sharp sickle end, and there, inside the cell, it settles down to feed and lay eggs.”

Dr Oaks went on to say that the wasp larva is the only multicellular organism known in which the juvenile form also lays eggs. “It is one of the most remarkable evolutionary adaptations ever seen,” he said. “The larva is born pregnant, and is in fact little more than a bag of eggs. Once it settles down in a neuron, it absorbs nutrition from the cell cytoplasm, and swells up until it bursts open, releasing the eggs. These eggs resemble tiny blue rods with a blob at the end, so that they look rather like a hammer. Each hatches within hours, releasing more larvae, known as Stage II larvae. These Stage II larvae are externally identical to the first, or Stage I, larva, but are of course even smaller. They burrow out of the neuron and move along the body of the nerve, absorbing nutrients as they travel, until, eventually, they reach the brain.

“Once they arrive at the brain, each larva begins to secrete chemicals called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters, of course, are naturally produced by the human brain, but the parasitic wasp produces mimics which override the genuine neurotransmitters and significantly affect the behaviour of the host. Parasitic wasps are well known for their ability to convert their hosts into “zombies” which obey the commands of the parasites, but this is the first instance where such an action has been seen in a human being.

“The effect in a human is to drive the afflicted person to seek out others, both affected and unaffected, and to congregate with them in large numbers. Meanwhile, some of the larvae, but not all, crawl out of the brain and back down the nerves until they reach the closest skin, usually that of the face. They then burrow out of the nerve endings and wander around the dermis until they find a sweat gland. Each larva that has survived up to this point immediately curls up and secretes a capsule around itself, which has five points, which under the microscope resembles a star and is dark red in colour. Inside that capsule the larva pupates and emerges as a new adult wasp, which crawls up the sweat gland duct until it reaches the surface of the skin. There it waits, secreting chemicals known as pheromones, which attract wasps of the opposite sex. After mating on the skin, the males, which have no wings or functional mouth parts, die; the females, which are now pregnant, fly off to find new hosts on whose skin to lay eggs and begin the cycle over again.

“Meanwhile, the larvae that have remained in the brain continue to produce neurotransmitters that modify the host’s behaviour in drastic ways. First, as already stated, the parasite compels the infected person to congregate with other people, both infected and otherwise; the sufferer will, in fact, be driven to organise such meetings, by the internet if necessary. This means that the pregnant female wasp has more potential hosts to infect, while the male has the opportunity to mate with females from other hosts and avoid the risks of inbreeding. Secondly, it drastically changes, for reasons so far unknown, not just the behaviour but the political beliefs of the affected person.

“And in what way does it do this? You only have to look at the shapes of the various stages of the larval parasite. While the adult female looks like a very, very tiny wasp, with wings like tendrils, and the male similar but with no wings at all, the larva looks, first, like a white sickle. Then it produces eggs that resemble tiny blue hammers. And in its final stage, the pupa, it looks like a dark red star.

“Is that not enough? The larva in its various forms looks like a white sickle, a blue hammer, and a red star. Clearly there is only one way it can affect the political beliefs of those it infects!

“Yes,” Dr Oaks concluded. “We have confirmed that this parasitic wasp turns its victims into Russian bots, trolls, agents, and zombies. And we therefore suggest that it can only have one name appropriate to it – Moscowaspus vladimirputinii - after the evil Russian dictator, who must in some way be responsible. And we will recommend to the Pentagon that the United States must start World War Three at once!"

For more on this story,  click here.