John William Waterhouse: Pandora, 1896. Wikipedia

When Zeus filled Pandora’s jar with the evils of the world, he saved Delusional Hope for last – to prevent humans from committing mass suicide as they were overcome by the other evils.

A year of blogging Desdemona has helped me to overcome the curse of delusional hope. Hope prevents us from seeing things as they are; hope immobilizes us. It is vital that we, as a species, abandon all hope for the world that birthed us. We have destroyed the Holocene biosphere, and it can never be rebuilt. We have inadvertently terra-formed Earth into a different planet. This act cannot be undone; it is thermodynamically irreversible. Desdemona’s message: Deal with it.

What have we learned in the last year? Here are some highlights:

Because “God” will not spontaneously remove a trillion tons of excess carbon from the atmosphere and oceans, there are only three strategies that humanity can pursue: (1) gain control of the global carbon cycle; (2) learn how to colonize the much more desolate Earth, or (3) choose extinction.

The first option requires controlling diffuse carbon fluxes on the scale of many gigatons per year. I would like to believe that human ingenuity is up to it, but the immensity of the task is overwhelming: we need to pull 1 teraton of carbon from the atmosphere-ocean system to return to the geochemistry in which humans evolved, while simultaneously preventing the emission of another 1 teraton of carbon from melting  permafrost and who knows how many gigatons of methane from undersea clathrates. There are no technologies on the drawing board that begin to achieve that scale.

Choosing extinction is the default option, which humans are embracing with gusto. Because there is no reason to think Homo sapiens sapiens is exempt from the accelerating Holocene megafaunal extinction event, it’s entirely likely that humans will follow elephants, rhinos, whales, and most of the other Cenozoic species into oblivion. In some tens of millions of years, other organisms will evolve to fill the empty niches.

Finally, if humanity doesn’t have the wherewithal to develop planetary climate-control technology, we may undertake a desperate effort to colonize the Wasteland Earth. This will be a much less hospitable biosphere than the one in which humans evolved, characterized by extremely limited freshwater, H2S-poisoned atmosphere and oceans, severe ozone depletion, and droughts lasting centuries that are punctuated by destructive flooding events.

Desdemona counsels that we weigh everything against these realities. Most human concerns pale to invisibility against this looming background of doom. Grieve for the world, certainly. But then move on to acceptance. Desdemona has helped me to understand the truth of Woody Allen’s immortal words: “I felt much better after I gave up hope.”


  1. Gail said...

    Why, Happy Birthday Des!

    And what a nice, uplifting summary of the climate conundrums we have created and have no solutions for. Can you put the Woody Allen quote about the two paths someplace permanently accessible? When did he say that?

    You might like this somewhat related post if you haven't come across it already:  

  2. Gail said...

    not a comment - just a birthday gift you are sure to appreciate!  

  3. rpauli said...

    You express it so well. Eloquent.

    "So long, and thanks for all the fish!"  

  4. rpauli said...

    So Long & Thanks for All the Fish Lyrics

    So long and thanks for all the fish
    So sad that it should come to this
    We tried to warn you all but oh dear?

    You may not share our intellect
    Which might explain your disrespect
    For all the natural wonders that
    grow around you

    So long, so long and thanks
    for all the fish

    The world's about to be destroyed
    There's no point getting all annoyed
    Lie back and let the planet dissolve

    Despite those nets of tuna fleets
    We thought that most of you were sweet
    Especially tiny tots and your
    pregnant women

    So long, so long, so long, so long, so long
    So long, so long, so long, so long, so long

    So long, so long and thanks
    for all the fish


    So long and thanks for all the fish
    So sad that it should come to this
    We tried to warn you all but oh dear?

    (oh dear)

    Despite those nets of tuna fleets
    We thought that most of you were sweet
    Especially tiny tots and your
    pregnant women

    So long, so long, so long, so long, so long
    So long, so long, so long, so long, so long

    So long, so long and thanks
    for all the fish  

  5. cduhamel said...


    I am humbled to see the quality and vision of your posts. Please accept my profound gratitude.
    Nice to rub elbows rewilding into the new world.

    claude, in a self sustaining farm in québec. 60 years young.  

  6. Stefano said...
    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
  7. Stefano said...

    I have been reading your blog almost daily for months, and I agree with the views you expressed in this post.
    That been said, there is a further step that need to taken: the realization that there is no way that the planet will be able to support 7 billion (and growing) of people. And that we are headed toward a massive die-off.
    We already have 10% of US people surviving on food stamps.... in one of the most prosperous countries in the world.

    And this is nothing yet!
    But what a person aware of this state on affair can do?
    Act responsibly by reducing consumption is a must. If nothing else, one can learn how to get by with less.

    Anyway, just thank you for putting so much time in a very informative blog.  

  8. Robin P Clarke said...

    No comments? Indeed, for what comments can begin to measure up to the observations presented above?  

  9. Gail said...

    Des, Des, I'm worried about you. Anniversaries are always traumatic.

    You have inspired a really fascinating exploration of Pandora's box/vessel but I'm not sure how to send it to you as it's all in email messages and I can't find a way to send it to you.

    Hope you are well! And Happy Birthday!  

  10. Jim said...

    Thank you, everybody, your posts warm Desdemona's heart.  

  11. cduhamel said...

    The invading farmer culture was fundamentally different than the native hunter gatherer culture. Farming produces different relationships between plants and humans, other animals and humans, and between humans themselves. It fosters a master/slave relationship, a completely different way of living.

    A life of toil and slavery.

    Of soil erosion, floods, famines, deserts and plagues.  

  12. Anonymous said...

    Desdemona despairs,

    This is good, very good.

    Sadly, you are likely correct.....



  13. Steve Bloom said...

    Thanks, Jim! Please keep up the good work.  

  14. michele said...

    Every day desdemona, wit's end and others confirm my own studies and intuitions. In 2008, I went to a psychiatrist who told me: "don't think about those things". I guess that I will not be thinking at all very soon! It has been very tiring to live these last years. Really hope there will be a place to rest in the afterworld. Thank you des, happy birthday and Hi Gail!  

  15. rpauli said...

    Michele, this is a very interesting time for our civilization. And it is ruthlessly honest to look at the changes.

    Please dont feel shame or anxiety for "thinking about those things" - it is very tough to be dispassionate and unbiased. Cultivate calm, but keep looking.

    Google 'Buddhism and climate change' - there is lots more now than there used to be.  


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