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posted on 07 November 2017

Symbolizing Life And Death

by Reverse Engineer, Doomstead Diner

Published on The Doomstead Diner 05 November 2017

Discuss this article at the Psychology Table inside the Diner

When I began first reading, then commenting and then blogging and ranting on the subjects of Collapse in 2007, the main topics of conversation across the collapse blogosphere were on Energy & Resource depletion (specifically Peak Oil) and Economics (specifically the Financial Crisis which began with the collapse of the investment banks Bear Stearns & Lehman Brothers). The second of those two topics was what got me interested in questions of collapse, its causes and what the potential outcomes might be.

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At the time, there wasn't a whole lot of debate about either Climate Change or Extinction on the sites concerned with Collapse, it was Energy and Economics ideas being batted around. As I recall on the Peak Oil Forum there was one commenter who brought the topics up fairly regularly, but he was in an extreme minority. Since my main interest is in the economic end of the collapse, I was quite happy in this environment of discussion, although granted I still got in plenty of heated arguments! Not to mention getting banned from a few of the websites. lol.

Fast forward from 2007 a decade later to 2017 and the situation has exactly reversed itself. Now the dominant discussion through the collapse blogosphere revolves around climate, the environment and speculation about extinction for Homo Saps along with most of the rest of the biosphere, if not all of it. It's got to the point now you can't even post a link on Reddit about a chain of 45 Bookstores shutting down without some Extinction aficionado dropping in the commentary with a "Stores Closing is not Collapse. Stores always close down." Which is true, but not in the kind of numbers we are seeing and not all across the board through many retail chains, restaurants and even Big Box stores like Circuit City.

Sears of course is rapidly on its way to the Great Beyond, they just announced yet another 63 closures to come right after the holidays just after all of Sears Canada was shut down. Sears of course was the biggest retailer in the world before Walmart and the Internet showed up. They definitely missed the boat on shifting to online retailing, but they were so invested by then in brick & mortar real estate that it would have undermined their own property holdings. Sears really was a REIT in its last years, the perceived value of the company was not in its sales but all that juicy commercial real estate space they owned all over the country. Now of course, this real estate is becoming increasingly worthless by the day. It's not like a Mall landlord can go and find another client to drop in that space at the drop of a hat. Said operators are of course currently being bailed out by Da Goobermint.

Anyhow, back to the topic at hand, its almost impossible now to find Kollapsniks to discuss these issues with because they are all so preoccupied with Climate, Environment and Extinction. Problems with available Energy, Economics and Geopolitics are barely worth mentioning with the atmospheric CO2 making its inexorable climb upward and the Oceans threatening to inundate all the coastal cities. I'm not sure if that is supposed to occur before or after all the fish and phytoplankton die? ??? icon_scratch.

These problems are very serious and they do threaten the existence of all life on Earth, at least in this iteration of the geological record. One does have to remember though that there have been 5 prior Mass Extinctions, and in all of them Life on Earth rebounded, regardless what the instigating cause of the extinction was. In some cases perhaps an Asteroid Impact, some cases maybe Super Volcanic eruption, some cases maybe Who Knows? We do know of course in all the prior ones Homo Saps could not be held responsible for them, we did not exist as a species at the time but they happened anyhow.

As self-aware, sentient & sapient creatures here now though, what the angst really is about is not so much the extinction event itself, but the generally held belief within the Extinction community that Homo Saps first off are responsible for this, and that second if we just got our shit together and used our Big Brains that evolution gave us in a constructive manner, we could put a stop to this. You might make the case this might have been possible had we started around the time Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring back in the 1960s, but at this point the door has been open for too long and the Horse left the Barn quite some time back.

The industrial civilization we live under is a Juggernaut, it's a Bullet Train with no brakes. No one person can effect enough change to stop the trajectory of this juggernaut, and not even a Movement of people could do it now, even if you could get one together which you can't because there are too many competing interests that make a profit from industrial society and because most of the population doesn't want to give up the creature comforts that come with it, as long as they still have them.

On the biological level of reproduction, we are no different than bacteria in a Petri Dish, Yeast in a Vat or the Reindeer on St. Matthews Island. We exploit the environment to the maximum level possible for its available energy, until the energy runs out, then there is a mass dieoff over a fairly rapid period of time. Unless during the growth phase there are Predators in the environment also that keep your numbers in check, any species will do this. Homo Saps reached the point where we conquered just about all our natural predators, including disease. At least for a while with technology and high energy input we did anyhow.

Ever speculate on how much electricity it takes to run an MRI or CAT scan for just ONE patient? I've had plenty of time to speculate on this while lying inside these electronic coffins for those of us with a fast ticket to the Great Beyond. I Googled it for this article, and in a study done by PE International in 2012, the average exam takes about 15 kwh. So that is about half what the average FSoA McMansion owner uses a day to run his fridge, air conditioner and Big Screen TV in his McMansion, which isn't too bad except of course they run a dozen of these a day and that is just ONE machine in ONE Hospital!

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) has undoubtedly reshaped the medical landscape. They offer a means of diagnosing disease and elucidating brain function. Unfortunately, these machines have a cost. They necessitate the employment of a large and expensive cryogenic high-field magnet. [1] As a result, not only do they consume enormous amounts of energy, but they also deplete a finite resource: helium.

Just How Much Energy?

According to a report published in 2012, the United States performs 97.7 exams per population of 1000. [2] Given that the population of the US is 314,900,427 as of 2010, this means roughly 30,765,772 exams are performed in the US per year. [3] In a study done by PE International in 2012, the average exam takes about 15 kwh. [4] Given this, the US consumes roughly 461,486,576 khw a year. This accounts for roughly 0.01% of the U.S.'s energy use, given that the US uses 4,158 billion khw. [5] Because the standard of living is growing particularly in China and India, the energy costs globally will likely by increasing by a very large margin in the future.

How Much Helium?

Large amounts of helium are needed to cool the superconducting wire to temperatures as low as 4 degrees Kelvin. However, this cooling requires large amounts of helium. According to NEMA, MRI machines consume about 7000 tons of helium annually. [6] In 1996, it was estimated that the US used about 2.6 billion scf. [7] If one extrapolates the upward trend in helium consumption, then let's very roughly say that about 5 billion scf of helium are used annually. [7] That would mean 27% of the U.S.'s helium is being allocated towards the use of MRI's every year. Sources conflict on the exact amount of extractable helium left on the planet, but the amount is finite. [8]


MRI's are quite costly, and with a growing population, are not sustainable. However, the MRI has become such a staple of modern medicine that we cannot simply eliminate it. More energy efficient MRI's are needed. Shoujun Xu has developed a method to eliminate the need for cryogenics using a optical atomic magnetometers. [9] Such developments are promising for the future of medical imagining.

© Spencer Nam. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.

Without these scanning devices, modern medicine as we know it today won't exist. The doctors are clueless what might be wrong with you until they get their test results back and the report from the Radiologist. To be truthful, even if they DO get the scan done and get the results, they STILL can't diagnose the problem! That's been my experience over the last year anyhow...OK, wait, I am going off on a tangent here.

The point is at the moment we have no other effective predator here for Homo Saps other than Homo Sap himself killing each other through warfare, but believe it or not as much of that as we have ongoing, it's currently still not enough to get the Death Rate to exceed the Birth Rate on a Global basis.

Disease is starting to make a comeback now as predator, between the Super Bugs that are resistant to all anti-biotics, new strains of viruses and the lack of clean drinking water in many neighborhoods, including those in so-called 1st World Industrialized nations. See Flint, MI. One has to expect the Death Rate to continue to climb here over the coming years as there is less available energy for hi-tech medicine and providing clean drinking water and effective sewage treatment plants in the large cities that have sprouted up like mushrooms on a cool morning in Kennett Square, PA since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Particularly since the 1950s-60s with the so-called "Green Revolution" and the application of high energy oil based fertilizers and powerful pesticides to industrial agriculture. So there is some self-regulation in the system, although it's not working fast enough for the Nihilists & Misanthropes on Nature Bats Last who would like to see all of Humanity DEAD ASAP! In the words of the Church of Euthanasia, "Save the Planet. Kill Yourself."

I have little doubt that if the Church of Euthanasia was still a going concern, they would have the Extinction Symbol hanging behind the the Altar while the Faithful drink the Kool-Aid, eat the Oreo and genuflect.

Speaking of NBL, its proprietor and Nihilist-in-Chief Guy McPherson (aka "Dr. McStinksion here on the Diner) is one of the pundits who has made bank on the growing fretting over imminent extinction, jet setting around the world to deliver his message of hopelessness and apparently abusing a few of his female groupies along the way. He beat Kevin Spacey by a few months in having the Dark Side of his character outed. Now everybody is getting outed for this transgression. This is the latest in distractions from the MSM hitting Faux Newz daily. He would be doing a lot better these days on his website if he had a more squeaky clean sex history, but dems are da breaks. Doesn't look like Kevin Spacey's career is going to be doing too well either over the next few years.

Dr. McStinksion's name came up inside the Diner again recently, when one of the Diners put up the Extinction Symbol, which apparently has been floating around since at least 2014 or so, but I had never seen it before. It's up at the top of the page here heading the article, along with the SUN☼ symbol for Life. The admonition along with the extinction symbol is that you should:

Create the extinction symbol in a temporary non-toxic medium where people will see it.

This restriction of a "temporary, non-toxic medium where people will see it" is quite limiting. You can't spray paint it on a wall, spray paint is an oil product and toxic. You can't write it on the toilet stall wall at Walmart, because ink is also a toxic oil product. You could scratch it in the dirt or sand, but that would wash away with the first rainfall. Longer lasting but not too harmful would be to carve the symbol into the bark of a tree. This doesn't usually do too much harm to the tree, although I am not sure the tree huggers would approve of this anyhow. Electric & Telephone wire poles would be OK though, the tree is already dead. Chalk on the sidewalk works OK, although a lot of fossil fuels are burned to mine the Calcium Carbonate that chalk is made from.

If you find wet cement somewhere you could draw it in that and hope it's not smoothed over before the cement dries. Cement also though is a very energy consumptive material in mining the limestone. It also uses up a lot of sand, and the planet is running out of that too. Mainly though, if it is going to gain any public traction it probably would have to be on Leaflets glued to walls and poles like rock concerts used to be advertised. So far going back to 2014, I haven't seen the symbol anywhere, thus my ignorance when it was dropped on the Diner last week.

What is the purpose of dropping this symbol down everywhere basically in isolation with nothing to explain it? It would take recognition of what the symbol MEANS in the viewer to begin with, like the old PEACE symbol from the 60's. That also must have taken some time to gain traction. Googling again, it turns out the Peace Sign was originally designed in 1958 for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

The peace sign was really designed in 1958 by British artist Gerald Holtom for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), which was having its first major march in England. Holtom explained that the symbol superimposed the semaphore letters "N" and "D" over each other.

Now, a campaign like that is a good place to launch a Symbol for a movement, but even so it took until the mid 1960's for this to really catch on and become a symbol of the counter culture movement. I remember back to the mid 1960's watching newz on TV, and really I didn't start seeing this symbol until probably 1967, with the Summer of Love in the Haight. So nearly a full decade to get general recognition of a symbol, and do we have time for a full decade to pass now before we radically change direction? No, we don't, we are already out of time to stop mass extinctions. However, if the Extinction Awareness people really want to get their Symbol launched, they will need to get a big march going like the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament did, at the very least.

Now, it's not like I am unaware of the extreme gravity of these problems, and I recognize that the folks who want to see the Extinction Symbol everywhere to try and WAKE PEOPLE UP are Homo Saps with good and noble intentions, but to me this is a lot like continued climate research. There is already enough evidence to lead any reasonable thinker to the conclusion we're headed for an extinction, hell it's already underway through a good part of the food chain. Insects are dying and the birds that feed on them are dying too. What is not clear of course is what the timeline is on our own extinction, just that it is an inevitability.

So to me, we should be devoting our scientific and engineering knowledge not to try to fix what is terminally broken at least on our civilizational timescale (although likely not on the geological timescale), but rather what we need to do in order to make the best of a bad situation and stay alive as long as we can. On the individual level, this is what the patient with Terminal Cancer usually does, rather than give up and die he goes on the Chemo and Radiation and tries to stay alive, even though he knows he is likely DOOMED in the end regardless.

So that is why I contrasted scribbling the Extinction Symbol with the SUN☼ Symbol if you are going to carry around chalk to do symbol writing on the sidewalk somewhere. The Extinction Symbol is a DEATH SYMBOL, and it's going to attract the Nihilists & Misanthropes the same way Nature Bats Last and Dr. McStinksion do. It's not going to do much to attract the average J6P, who at this point won't even know what it means and if he does figure it out he won't worry about it as long as he still has a job and beer in the cooler after work and the NFL playing on the Big Screen TV on Sundays.

The SUN☼ symbol on the other hand stands a chance of attracting people interested in developing a Sustainable Living lifestyle, insofar as that is possible in a world with a rapidly changing climate. It focuses on the positive, rather than the negative and it promotes ACTION on things you actually have control over in your own life and community.

The drivers for extinction go far beyond this, they are systemic and part of the biological flow, that repeats itself in cycles and likely will do so until the radiation output from the SUN☼ exceeds what eukaryotic organisms can withstand, estimated to be at max 500M years from present day. Then after that in a few billion more years when the surface of the Earth is completely barren of life and the only remaining organisms are surviving around the sulfur vents at the bottom of the ocean the SUN☼ will go Red Giant, boil off the Oceans and even those organisms will go Extinct too. So Extinction is guaranteed here, and all you are quibbling over is the timeline for it and what caused it.

In this case, the preponderance of evidence (although not all) supports the idea this particular Extinction Level Event is being caused by Homo Sap, and thus is in some way worse than prior events which came from "Natural Causes".

Asteroid Impacts and Super Volcanic Eruptions are "Forces of Nature".

But isn't Homo Sap a Force of Nature also? We are just obeying the Laws of Nature as it was bred into us from the time we evolved. Exploit the environment and procreate to the MAX. That's how species become successful. Some people believe that because we have "Wisdom" and "Sapience" we should be somehow different than the bacteria, the yeast and the reindeer, but in aggregate our network intelligence is no greater than theirs and we are subject to the same constraints and imperatives.

Extinction will come when it will, as Death comes to all living creatures. You need to reconcile yourself with the fact that death is an inevitability. Life is precious while you have it, but nothing lasts forever. In the grand scheme of the Universe, does it really make a big difference if we go extinct in 20 years, 100 or 1,000,000? It's going to happen at some point. In the meantime, you do the best you can to last as long as you can. That is why I promote the use of the SUN☼ Symbol rather than the Extinction Symbol in trying to raise awareness of the problems we face. If you feel the Extinction Symbol will do the job better, then you should scribble that in chalk on the sidewalk as you cruise about town. If like me you feel the SUN☼ Symbol is the better choice, then scribble that. Or scribble them both if you have the time.

I of course will not be cruising around town scribbling either symbol, I do my scribbling over the internet here on the Doomstead Diner. The legs don't work right for mosying around town to scribble on the sidewalk, and once I got down on my knees to scribble, I wouldn't be able to get back up again. So here is where I will post the Symbols of LIFE, not DEATH.

I will leave it to Dr. McStinksion and his crew of Nihilists & Misanthropes on Nature Bats Last to post the Extinction Symbol there.

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