Thursday, 24 April 2014

Earth Year - I Am Sam Carana

This is a story about climate change and psychosis. It is a cry for action at the cusp of climate catastrophe.


My  introduction to climate change came from Al Gore, in his 2006 award winning An Inconvenient Truth. I became aware of the issue, but never gave it much more thought. It wasn’t until I heard former head of NASA's Institute for Space Studies, James Hansen, on CBC in 2009 that I became really interested in the issue, and started researching it online and reading avidly about it on The Economist. Over the next 3 years I would read over 100 books on climate, energy and related, and countless websites. At the time I genuinely knew a lot about climate, civilization and earth systems, but i`ve stopped reading lately and forgotten over 90% of everything I read. For my favorite books and documentaries see my blog bio.

The books that hit me hardest was James Hansen’s Storms of My Grandchildren, James Lovelock's The Vanishing Face of Gaia, and Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers, while the websites that affected me most was Peak Oil forums, Sam Carana’s Arctic News blog and Cory Morningstar's The Art of Annihilation . Of countless documentaries, the best were The Age of Stupid, 6 Degrees Could Change The World, and Collapse by Jared Diamond. I was flabbergasted. The injustice! We were screwed. There was little to no hope. Serious scientists were predicting famine and war caused by climate change in the near term. In his books, James Lovelock presented evidence that the IPCC is highly conservative, and what they're predicting for 2040 might well come by 2025. This spells disaster for Africa. My family lives there. I was depressed and suicidal. I barely slept. I stopped eating and became extremely skinny. Then the Occupy movement erupted in 2011. I was ecstatic. Change! I met tons of great fellow activists there and made life long friends. I finally had a place to express my activism. I’d do activism with the Occupy group but sometimes I’d also go alone to the university and show off my climate artwork. These were full size 1 metre tall paintings.

Some students stopped to look, others didn't. It didn't matter, activism was the only thing giving me hope and in mind felt like the only thing that mattered. One day Professor Andrew Weaver walked by and stopped to look at my artwork and quotes. He was impressed and chatted with me. I was ecstatic – I got to talk to Andrew Weaver! Suddenly it was all worth it. But the stress of climate change didn't end, it only got worse. To do more climate activism, and get a sense of accomplishment, I intended to cycle across Canada in 2011, and made it from Victoria to Calgary with flyers and a trailer that advertised climate change, but I fell incredibly hard and injured myself when I raced downhill without holding the handlebars. My dogs in the trailer flew overhead and we crashed hard into the rocky roadside. There were tons of cars on the highway so I'm glad we didn't topple into traffic. Lesson learned - hold the handlebars! I didn't hand out any flyers because I didn't like what we had to say, and also i'm quite shy to approach people.

I saw my puppies fly.

In 2012 a combination of extreme stress from climate change (I thought the world was ending in the near term) and inherited bipolar disorder put me into a psychosis. The trigger may have been a report that came out from some Russian Arctic scientists that said the oceanic East Siberian Arctic Shelf may be venting up to 3.5 billion tons of methane a year from plumes "over a km in diameter". How much is 3.5 billion tonnes? A lot, and its very bad news for the climate. It turns out that this was simply a proration and not an actual measure of total emissions. But the discovery of thousands of methane plumes, some over a km in diameter, is real, and can be seen here. I, and many of the people on the forums I went to, genuinely believed we were at the start of runaway climate change, and if you asked me today, i'd still say there is strong evidence that we may have multiple passed tipping points that will trigger runaway climate change, the biggest being the Arctic sea ice albedo change and the methane hydrates.

Anyway, in my psychosis I thought I was being sent signals to go out and start a massive university student movement across Canada to “save the world”, and started seeing signs and signals that I was supposed to be Sam Carana. I printed out perhaps 500-1000 (or was it 2500) flyers and intended to cycle across Canada hitting all the universities and flyering summer students. As it happens there also happened to be an Occupy group WALKING across Canada from Victoria. I initially started my trip with these guys but ditched them when i claimed a guy who looked like the No Country For Old Men bad guy, had a grenade and was going to blow the group up. When I left on my bike ride I was at the peak of my psychosis, and I thought the Arctic Methane Emergency Group was sending me signals to be Sam Carana. Sam Carana is the anonymous author of many blogs including Arctic News blog, Geoengineering blog, Feebate blog and many more. I don't know who Sam Carana really is, but I suspect he's a whistleblower who would lose his position if he said such things publicly. But anyway, in my psychosis I thought I was being sent signals by AMEG to be Sam! It was a simple mistake on my part. If you break down Sam Carana’s name its Am SC, Ar SC, An SC, A SC. I was SC! I was Shaheer Cassim. I was supposed to be Sam Carana. The signals were arriving  through Facebook and music (The Dreaming Moon-The Magnetic Fields), but also ambumlances (Sambulances), licence plates, signs, art and a quite a few other things. But anyways I'M NOT Sam Carana.

My first stop on my bike ride was Camosun college. I tried to enter a class of exchange students to hand out flyers. But I wasn't allowed in - I had to sign in first. I tried signing in as myself but they wouldn't let me in, I wasn't on the list, then I tried signing in as Sam Carana but still I wasn't allowed in. I didn't get it! What was I doing wrong? I was just following the AMEG peoples instructions and going to hand out flyers to exchange students. An administrator for the exchange students sent out a counseller to talk to me and I broke down crying. What a sight I must have been - shaved completely bald and without eyebrows, bawling my eyes out. I left Camosun and continued on my bike ride.  Unfortunately, my electric bicycle broke down early in the trip and so I proceeded on foot.  While walking the highway, I thought I was being sent signals to strip naked, so I did, on the Malahat highway. I found a rainbow colored duster thing and paraded in the middle of the highway, completely nude. The police picked me up and took me to jail. Who was I? I wasn't sure and and claimed to the police to be both Shaheer Cassim and Sam Carana. They gave me paper clothing and a bun and cup of juice. I spent the night in jail. The next day I went to an Occupy meeting with my paper jail clothes on, and my friends realized something was wrong. They called my parents, who flew out and admitted me to hospital. Somehow the police got to talking to my parents, and told them I was doing a good thing and more people should be doing climate activism.

Me, at the start of my trip. Victoria, BC, Mile 0.

In the psyche ward, I looked at the DVD's and found a movie called I am Sam. There it was. Proof. I was supposed to be Sam! Even the nurses called me Sam. I became more suicidal and during my 3 hr breaks the hospital would give me daily with my parents, my parents had to stand between me and the road because they never knew if I was going to jump in front of a car. I was convinced I had failed these mysterious AMEG or whoever people and was going to be assassinated. There was a guy in the psyche ward who looked like Clint Eastwood and I was convinced he was sent there to kill me. I were petrified. One day while on break I escaped my parents and ran to the top of my apartment building and prepared to jump. But I chickened out. In the psyche ward I found Jesus (they were sending me signals to be Christian), read nearly the entire bible, and became vegetarian (signals, again); after my electro-convulsive therapy I lost Jesus again and became a meat-eater once more. All in all I spent 10 weeks in hospital on a variety of anti-psychotic and anti-anxiety pills, and we had to be given 9 treatments of electro-convulsive therapy. Even after the ECT I was in residual psychosis for a few more months.

According to Malcolm Light a 80-90% emission reduction by 2020-2030 and a variety of geo-engineering techniques can dramatically slow down the extinction process. Even if we believe the highly conservative IPCC's targets of 85% reduction by 2050 to have a 50% chance of limiting warming above 2 degrees,  it's still a tall order. And it`s certain the IPCC is wrong. Once you pass 2 degrees, positive feedbacks that cause a runaway climate are sure to occur in full force. They are occurring right now at 0.8 C. And aerosol pollution from ships, coal plants, and diesel engines are blocking up to 1.5 C, so we're already well past 2 degrees C if civilization suddenly stops industry. Recently the IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri said parts of Africa will lose 50% of their crop production by 2020. Seriously? This is a disaster. But is it really too late? Is doing something better than doing nothing? Is activism still worth it? I believe the near term climate collapse argument but I also believe we will geo-engineer in desperation, and it will somewhat work, buying us precious years. The proof is in global dimming. Sure there will be losers, but maybe the world will come together, people will eat vegetarian, and there will be enough food to spare to the starving countries. Unlikely. I'm just dreaming. Is Jeremy Rifkin right that we are an Empathic Civilization? Or are we crude, selfish, short-sighted, and greedy? If i'm 99% sure that we’re going to experience an extinction event in the coming decades, can I live off 1% hopium? Don’t take my hopium away. James Lovelock, you took our collective hopium. You left us bare and naked. And then you have the gall to retract your two books, saying you, Tim Flannery, Al Gore, and whoever else were alarmist? Did you retract because you genuinely believe things will progress slower than you predicted in your alarming books, or because you feel bad about making people hopeless and suicidal? Are the recent death plunges in Arctic sea ice, and methane erupting from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf not evidence that things are progressing much faster than expected?

Summertime Arctic sea ice is in rapid decline and could be gone within years or decades. When the Arctic sea ice is gone this is known as a blue ocean event. It takes the same amount of energy to raise water 0 to 81 degrees C, as it did to melt that ice at 0 degrees C. This is because of ice's latent heat of fusion. This means things get very hot very fast once that ice is gone, and this can lead to methane hydrate destabilization. The result of this according to Peter Wadhams (eminent world expert on sea ice) is an abrupt climate change that civilization could not withstand. The blue ocean event will only last a few weeks at first, and within a decade or two might be year-round. Under such circumstances, it is inconceivable how methane hydrates will stay locked up on the Arctic ocean floor. According to Paul Beckwith, (Professor at the UofOttawa doing his PhD in abrupt climate change) this process could raise temperatures to 5-6 C by 2025-2035, unless geoengineering is applied. Temperature rise might not stop at 6 C, and might continue to rise to 8 C and beyond by 2200, according to Hans Schellnhuber (directer at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research)  which might mean hydrogen sulfidication of the atmosphere and oceans, and complete extinction of land mammals. According to Malcolm Light, sea ice loss and methane hydrates could push temperatures to 4C by 2030 and 8C by 2050. There are such massive methane reserves below the Arctic Ocean floor (more than 5000 billion tons of methane carbon) that they represent around 100 times the amount that is required to cause a Permian style major extinction event, should about one percent of the sub-sea Arctic methane be released into the atmosphere. Paul Beckwith, Malcolm Light, and Peter Wadhams are staunch geoengineering supporters.

A 1 km wide methane plume, an example of what's occurring in the Siberian sea.

Global dimming, caused by sulfur released during coal burning and bunker fuel burning, reflects sunlight and so temporarily combats global warming. Over the past 15 years, China has so massively increased their coal burning sulfur pollution that global dimming is masking the full effect of global warming by up to 50% or more.

After leaving hospital it took me a while to learn that everything that I thought transpired was just in my head. I really thought the purple econobox car in my parkade was a sign that I was doing my Sam Carana bit right. I really believed my parents controlled my dogs with hand movements. I really believed the signs in the elevator and on my hospital roomate's whiteboard were messages for me. I really believed the power line towers zapped my electric bike and broke it. I really believed I was going to be killed.  I was in psychosis for at least 4 months. When I got out of the hospital I was so pissed off at climate change that I threw out most of my artwork. I gave up climate change completely, including activism (I still sometimes join crowds and other activist organizations). I took up my childhood hobby of gaming StarCraft and marathon watching movies and TV shows. I would sometimes go out alone with a chloroplast sign advertising something climate change. Doing activism alone sucks and is anxiety inducing. Some people are nice and give you props, others think you're crazy for being a solo activist. The longest I ever spent on a street corner alone downtown was 6 hours. During that time, a guy stopped and asked me what the hell I was doing, that I looked like a bum, that I should just accept climate change as a fact of life, and that he would beat me up if he saw me out there again. Then he offered to smoke a joint with me. In any case I quit doing solo activism after that.

Denver Airport muralsEarth burns and species extint.

A happier ending? People turn in their weapons and world peace.

I quit my career as a commercial pilot due to a general boredom with flying (and cause pilots shouldn't be bipolar). I don't know what to do with my life. Canada will be one of the most favorable places in the world to experience climate change, and Africa one of the least favorable. As James Lovelock would say, "move north young man". Nonetheless, if society collapses because of a 3-4 degree C rise in temperatures, or does not massively engage in geoengineering, everyone will most likely die. We are only buying time. World carrying capacity is predicted to be under 1 billion at 4 degrees C and a few thousand at 6 C.

Packing up and migrating, leaving old friends behind, is hard work. Those people who are heavily invested in the land will probably stay behind and suffer first from climate change. Those with nothing to lose and are willing to travel, will survive the longest. The world isn't going to fall apart overnight. But the time to move is now. Abrupt climate change is now. Natalia Shakhova, Igor Semiletov, Peter Wadhams, Sam Carana, Paul Beckwith, Malcolm Light, James Lovelock, David Wasdell, Hans Schellnhuber and AMEG can't all be full of shit. It would be really easy to simply paint their work as shit. The prediction of a 50 billion ton pulse of methane (enough methane to end civilization) releasing from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf any time after 2008 was posited from decades of research. Peter Wadhams, Natalia Shakhova and Igor Semiletov describe it as a high probability event. It's not simply shit.

For quotes from climate books, see climate books blog.
Or see Supplementary Information.