Thursday, 24 April 2014

An Essay On Climate Change and Activism

This is an essay about climate change and my time as a climate activist. It is a cry for action at the cusp of climate catastrophe.

This essay is dedicated to Sam Carana of, a blogger devoted to reporting the truth on climate change.

    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. For my favorite books and documentaries see my blog bio.

    The books that hit me hardest was James Hansen’s Storms of My GrandchildrenJames Lovelock's The Vanishing Face of Gaia, and Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers. Of countless documentaries, the best were The Age of Stupid6 Degrees Could Change The Worldand 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. 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. 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 I crashed hard into the rocky roadside. There were tons of cars on the highway so I'm glad I or my dogs 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 particularly disturbing piece of news arrived, the discovery of thousands of methane plumes, some over a km in diameter, erupting from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. This 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, the snowline albedo change, and the subsea methane hydrates. 2012 also saw the formation of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group, a group of scientists, doctors, and reporters warning of large methane releases and subsequent risk to the climate and agriculture. Some within the climate movement argue there is no danger of large methane releases. These people include David Archer and Gavin Schmidt. We must remember that these two are climate modelers, making theoretical models on computers. People like Natalia Shakhova, Igor Semiletov, and Peter Wadhams have been in the Arctic and East Siberia the past ~15 years via ships and submarines, studying the conditions, and they have observed great changes and are warning society about it. Their warning come not on models but through physical observation. Before the ozone hole was discovered, modelers too claimed an ozone hole wasn't possible. Once James Lovelock invented the tool to detect CFCs a hole was discovered above Antarctica that proved modelers wrong. In the near future, large methane releases will prove the methane modelers wrong.

    Anyway, in 2012 I wanted to start up the idea that we should shoot for not an earth hour or earth day, but an earth year, a year in which everyone on earth devotes their attention to solving the crises of climate change, pollution, deforestation, over-fishing, ect. I once again attempted to cycle across Canada. I left with the Occupy group walking across Canada, but soon broke off to hit Camosun college. Again, I didn't have any success handing out flyers. My bicycle broke down soon after so I walked home. I became ill from stress and spent some time in the hospital psyche ward.

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

    Summertime Arctic sea ice is in rapid decline and could be gone by the end of the decade. When the Arctic sea ice is gone this is known as a blue ocean event. Heat a pot of water with ice in it and you will see the temperature hovers around 0 while there is still ice, then rapidly warms up once the ice is gone. It takes an enormous amount of energy to melt ice. 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 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 6 C by 2025-2035, unless geoengineering is applied. Paul describes us as being at the beginning of an abrupt climate change phase that could continue rising to 10 or 11 C. New Zealand's  pre-eminent climate scientists Jim Salinger says we are now in abrupt climate change. 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 would mean hydrogen sulfidication of the atmosphere and oceans, and complete extinction of land mammals. Hans Schellnhuber assumes a slow release of methane in his calculations. According to Malcolm Light, sea ice loss and methane hydrates could push temperatures to 4C by 2030 and 8C by 2050. It might not stop there. 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. 
    Arctic sea ice is melting 50 years ahead of IPCC schedule.

    The East Siberian Arctic Shelf was on the first places to become ice free when sea ice levels suddenly dropped in 2007, and since then increasing methane emissions have been detected.

    50 billion tons of methane could be released from the ESAS at any time.

    According to Malcolm Light a 50-90% emission reduction by 2020 and a variety of geo-engineering techniques can dramatically slow down or even reverse 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. The IPCC is a highly conservative organization in their predictions, and their "carbon budget" is heavily influenced by special interests. We can't burn anymore fossil fuels. We have to stop today. 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 0.85 C. Another problem, 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 about 1.2 degrees, so we're already well past 2 degrees C if civilization suddenly stops industry and doesn't replace the aerosols with geoengineering. And aerosols only stay in the air for months, while CO2 stays for tens of thousands of years. 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. Maybe 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? 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?

    Earth burns and species extinct. Denver Airport murals.

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

    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". I wish I could find a way for my African family to migrate. Mostly likely, they will remain stuck behind when Africa collapses. 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. According to Dr. Ira Leifer world carrying capacity is predicted to be just a few thousand at 4 degrees C. Do we really want to test his prediction? And don't think we will revert to hunting and gathering in the Arctic and Antarctic - most large edible animal species will be dead and the hydrogen sulfide coming out of the oceans will be poisonous to breathe.

    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 SemiletovPeter Wadhams, Sam Carana, Paul BeckwithMalcolm LightJames LovelockDavid Wasdell, Guy McPherson 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 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. What would be the immediate effect of a 50 Gt release over a 10 year period? Over a 10 year timespan methane has 105 times the warming power of CO2, so nearly immediately the 50 Gt would have the power of some thousands of Gt of CO2. This would compare to humans emissions of 30 Gt a year. The methane would be localized to the Arctic initially causing abrupt Arctic warming and the release of more methane hydrates. According to Peter Wadhams this methane pulse will cause global warming to rise by 0.6 C abruptly, and cost the world economy 60 trillion dollars, and this would just be the start.

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


    1. Good to read that you're at peace with things now, Shaheer. Many posts at Arctic-news blog may look gloomy, but I typically end posts with the conclusion that the dangers can and should be reduced by means of comprehensive and effective action, as discussed at the Climate Plan blog.

    2. I am proud of you for sharing your story, Shaheer. Bipolar is a challenging disorder of extremes and I feel like your article could help many others who are struggling. As a nursing student and friend I have watched you grow through this experience, and I look forward to seeing what you take on next. You have a lot of passion and as you cultivate this you will do great things!

    3. Thank you for having the courage to share your story Shaheer. Although I didn't end up psychotic, I had a similar descent into months (years?) of shock, panic and depression on reading just how badly the feedback-loops of climate change could hit us. As the info gets out there more widely, I expect more and more people will start losing the plot over it. I even considered solo-activism, picturing myself like the archetypal bearded guy with an "end is nigh" sign, except with a climate message. But I never did it. If only more people would start taking all this information seriously we'd have a better chance of tackling it. I take my hat off to you for your efforts. Thank you my friend :)

    4. What a courageous article Shaheer. Thank you for having the guts to write so honestly.

      I knew 35 years ago that humans had to change their ways or we would be in deep doo doo. Now, all those years later, not only have humans not stopped logging, eating meat, mining etc etc but we are doing more of it, so I feel the situation is beyond help now. I feel sad most of the time for what we are doing to Mother Earth. I really thought she would destroy us before we destroy so many other species. It now looks like we are going to destroy ourselves .......

    5. Shaheer, I admire you so much for sharing your struggles so eloquently and with such fierce passion. As the impacts of extreme weather events become more frequent and obvious, many people I believe will take comfort from your story when they finally confront the monster of climate change. Thank you for being in the vanguard and suffering not only the anguish of knowing about the dangers we have unleashed, but also the incredulity of the deniers. Soon, (unfortunately!) circumstances will ensure you are not so alone in your vision. Please keep up your efforts, knowing that you will inspire others who will suffer the same painful reaction as reality sinks in. Remember that you are in many ways a pioneer and many people will benefit from your knowledge.

      1. Thanks Gail. Gail is the editor of where she accounts for ozone pollutions lethal effect on trees and plants.

    6. Living in a world where the climate is collapsing around us, while the vast majority of people seem indifferent is a very difficult thing to cope with. Who is insane-- someone who worries constantly about the fate of the earth and humanity? Or someone who pushes it out of awareness to focus on individual concerns?

      I really appreciate you sharing, Shaheer. I am sure that the horrors of climate change, and the madness of humanities passivity and willful ignorance are contributing to the psychoses of many other people as well. Hearing your story can give them hope and inspiration.

      Please keep fighting, for yourself, your health, and for all of us.

      Your ally,

      1. Thanks Margaret Klein. Margaret Klein has a PhD in clinical psychology, known as "The Climate Psycologist", and is the founder and director of The Climate Mobilization.

    7. When I first encountered this story, I was struck by how seriously Shaheer took all this (and I have some knowledge of many of the subject areas touched upon myself). If every person took these things so seriously and was so prepared to sacrifice and act, our species would likely not be facing the probable loss of modern civilisation in the foreseeable future (certainly in my and his lifetimes).

      All we can do without such willingness to act from the collective masses is prepare those "resilient communities that can endure disaster.", and the rest be damned by their own choices.

      I applaud people like Shaheer who go out there and fight for everyone else. We need more such people, sharing the burden more equitably (and just knowing the shape of things to come is a burden, no doubt about it).

    8. The Earth is being screwed over by the criminally insane efforts of the people in charge. We are barrelling down a mountain with no brakes, nowhere to turn off to, and the driver is stomping down on the pedal. Shaheer, do what will make you happy long-term. We're gonna need people with medical skills once everything gets a lot worse. Resilient community is something I am going to see/make in my lifetime. RIP Michael Ruppert, you were an intelligent man.

    9. Thank you Shaheer for your gripping narrative and please stay healthy.

      After reading all the press releases today on the newly released National Climate Assessment 2014 (NCA) as well as watching the White House Press conference and numerous panelists for many hours there is reason to hope that society may be nearer to a tipping point in human understanding and therefore action on the climate disruption that we are presently undergoing. For years I have thought that the complete disappearance of the Arctic sea ice would be necessary to tip human behavior, however the increasing frequency, severity, duration and different spatial extent of weather extremes seems to be preempting vanishing ice as the main reason for a human awakening on the enormous risks that we face.

      1. Thanks Paul. Well known climate science educator; Part-time Geography professor (climatology, oceanography, environmental issues), University of Ottawa. Physicist. Engineer. Master's Degree in Science in Laser Optics, Bachelors of Engineering, in Engineering Physics. Won Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario gold medal. Also interested in investment and start-ups in climate solutions, renewable energy and energy efficiency. Avid chess player, and likes restoring old homes. Married with children.

    10. My great friend Shaheer is a rare person willing to give up comfort and privilege to make history. A history that our children will read about in accurately written books to know how and who saved the earth from climate catastrophe. Shaheer blazed the trail for Joseph Boutilier, who also left from Mile 0 Victoria BC to warn and act for climate justice on a cross Canada unicycle journey,

      I'm so glad that Shaheer turned despair into rejoining humanity's quest for liberation from climate catastrophe and injustice. I am grateful to his loving, gentle and devoted parents, who helped allow Shaheer to pursue passion and justice together. Go with the greats of humanity and your inspiration will reverberate far and wide.

    11. Shaheer, years ago when I first met you, I saw a very timid human being, and although hidden away very carefully, a heart too big for the world. It breaks my heart to hear how much you've struggled, yet it amazes me how such a timid human being pulled a lions courage to face the things you have. Be the change you want to see in the world, and remember to stay healthy.

      With all the love in my heart,

    12. Thank you, Shaheer, for having the courage to share your personal story. Know that you are not alone - coming to grips with the climate crisis is extraordinarily difficult.

      There is a book that you might find interesting called "Fleeing Vesuvius: Overcoming the Risks of Economic and Environmental Collapse". (You can read it online at

      I frequently reread one of the chapters titled, "Cultivating Hope and Managing Despair", which contains these words of wisdom:

      "We are facing very uncertain and difficult times. In addition to the twin challenges of peak oil and climate change and the resultant economic and societal problems, we face very deep challenges to our collective psyche and spirit as people. When we consider the scale of the problems we face, it is easy to retreat into denial or wishful thinking or feel despair, helpless or hopeless about change.

      How we cope will depend largely on how resourceful we are and whether we can build communities that nurture hope rather than despair, keep people together rather than apart and cultivate creative adaptation in the face of adversity rather than destructive action. This is the best chance for our children.

      When despair threatens to overwhelm us, rather than being lured towards anger or hatred, we can remember the words of Kaethe Weingarten, who said ‘you can do hope without feeling hope’. Creating hope is largely a choice about taking constructive action and you don’t have to wait until you feel hopeful to take this action. I think this is what Shaun Chamberlain means when he speaks of the ‘pessimism of the intellect and the optimism of the will’. While we may doubt that our actions may work, we still act in the best faith we can. Furthermore, when we take collective, concrete and constructive action, in the process we generate hope and a sense of movement and possibility. We also counterbalance the cynicism, despair and inaction that could hobble the next generation. In this way, we can give them the freedom and encouragement to embrace their future. Now that is something to be hopeful about."

      Please take good care of yourself. Your story will be inspirational to many others who are also coming to grips to the challenges that human civilization is currently facing.

      Your ally,

    13. Shaheer, as important as the climate change is, I think we have to have a new world order and fixing climate will be part of that. And I think the best place to start a new world revolution would be in Iran. No country in the world has been more ready for a revolution longer than the people of Iran. Iran is pregnant with revolution and the baby is due soon. After Iran countries would change their system of governance one after another like dominoes. Maybe the second country would be United States. The United States must be stopped from imperialistic behaviour. Fuck Obama and his change. We can change the world. Yes we can. But not Obama's "can". Obama is a puppet ass president like his predecessors. It's been a long time since the United States has had a president who was by the people, and for the people.

    14. Your story is inspiring, Shaheer, and so is the courage and personal generosity you show by sharing it in this way. You were wondering whether the small number of people who can be counted as activists will ever be mentioned in history books as the people who gave a shit. Probably everyone who will be reading this knows in the back of their minds that at this point in time, whether those history books will even be written is to some extent an open question. If they are, something that will be missing from them anyway is a word of thanks, and I know that’s something you don’t hear very often, and definitely not often enough. So thank you Shaheer, thank you for your generosity of spirit in giving a shit and speaking up so boldly and clearly and bravely for those who haven’t woken up yet to the need to raise their own voices and also for all those others without vocal chords with whom we share our little blue spaceship.

      1. Thanks Rob. Rob is former professor and holds two PhDs in the social sciences. He is head of the Clowns Against Child Poverty.

    15. Hi Shaheer,

      I've read your story and think you're very talented and very brave to have written it all out.

      I also lost my mind when I went out west to live in tofino in 1982. It made me feel so relieved to read your account of how environment issues affected you. It was painful to be all broken down and feel in pieces but with time and learning how to take care of myself I've managed to pull it together. Hah! Just in time to find out I (we) were right all along. The whole world is going to hell in a handbasket. At warp speed. Anyway, I hope you take good care of yourself now.

      Best wishes

    16. Great to read your story Shaheer! Your doing a good thing, even though I'm not involved in this as much as you are, I really appreciate what you are dong and the struggles you go through to do what you think is right.Good luck for the future! I would like to add that Shaheer has got me more into the climate change movement. I am thinking of going vegetarian again, and really apricate our talks about nuclear power energy sources as the main giver, in combination with solar and wind. He is a knowledgeable man. - Justin Hunter

    17. Thank you for sharing your story. I admire your resilience. He who lives in the past is often depressed; he who lives in the future is often anxious, and he who lives in the present may be at peace. Be aware of the past and the future, but live in the present because that is the only time when living occurs. It is difficult facing the many issues on life's journey. For me, the most important support that I have ever found is my own, and the most important recognition that I have ever gained is my own. I am very grateful for the support of my family and friends; we are a part of many things, we may be a part of support groups, circles of friends, communities, the ecosystem, the planet, the circle of life, the universe, perhaps something even greater than that. But at the end of the day by virtue of the fact that we are living, sentient beings, we are our own person and that is incontrovertible. It is up to us to decide what happiness, love and the meaning of our own life is for ourselves. I am grateful to have you as a friend and hope that you find peace.

    18. Jeremy that was very sweet and true, thank you.

    19. Shaheer your passion and perseverance towards climate change is phenomenal, there will never be enough people who strive for a better healthier greener planet! we all share a planet where the consequences of our disregard for the environment is becoming more and more difficult to ignore. But regardless of any personal steps one takes to live more conscientiously and sustainably, the bad news about the planet's health only seems to be getting worse. It's hard not to feel desperation if not outright despair as political ignorance, and corporate collusion seem to thwart any attempt to make the system-wide changes necessary to avert environmental catastrophe. Thats why activism about climate change on a small or large scale is very important! So that people can see and hear that there are others who support and will stand for change! Shaheer you are doing a great job and you should continue to do your activism and continue to put your voice out there and be herd! handing out flyers and going to rallies are great ways of doing this and having your blog. You should try to get a bigger group together and have a gathering of sorts maybe this will get more attention from the public and get more people involved.
      Best of luck,
      The Breakfast Club

    20. Shaheer, You really can't think in the negative, only the positive. I got a degree in geography and from that learned it was up to me to keep my conscience clean, I refuse to live anywhere I can't bike and take public transit. I live next to a train station even. I learned its more cost effective, better for me, and better for the planet to eat right. I live in a small space that is cheap to heat and cool, less stuff is good too, less carbon footprint, etc. These are all very easy things to do. I can't concentrate on other people's behavior or I will go nuts. Think about what you can do, not what you can't do, like change other people's behavior. I believe a lot in education, and my rent is probably skyrocketing from it. Kids these days don't want their parent's suburban lives, they know how miserable selfishness and greed are firsthand, so I get to compete with them for inner city rentals.

    21. Perhaps the Intelligent planetary ecosystem known as 'Gaia' is allowing us, the principally flawed species of humans, to go the way of the dinosaurs; to make our world uninhabitable - as we have shown that our overall psychic make up is toxic to other organisms, and more to the point, to other planetary and galactic systems. Only by returning to first principles, and eradicating the pestilential scourge that is human kind, can she bring the potter's wheel to zero, to start again.

      There is always the possibility - and I believe this notion has some merit - that our race has already destroyed all viable interractive bio-systems on the other potentially life-bearing planets in this solar system - that we have been at this point time and time again.

      In the dying out and failure to adapt to changing conditions of such a vast proportion of species, this earth, in her runaway entropic spiral, is attempting to show us how our self-destruct activity is terminal. This can be seen in our demented activity - while we indulge in the fatal amusements we offer ourselves, smoking ourselves to death, driving ourselves to death, consuming ourselves to death - the other half that is running counter to this is attempting the life-saving and preserving acts of gardeners, farmers and conservationists. We are polarising our activity from creativity to entropy, and the balance has become overwhelmingly destructive.

      There has been evidence that even dolphins are racing in suicidal dashes against the shores of our continents, the urge to further the species is leaving animals, waterways are choked with algae, fish dying in polluted seas, and that this human, dominant, race has become isolated and landbound deliberately, in spite of having been given the means for inter planetary travel over 5 decades ago.

      It appears we are now being limited - and dumbed down - on a vast scale, to effect our own demise, and to enable the planet to begin terraforming over again.

      It is the only way in which she can ever be accepted into the hierarchy of intergalactic interactive harmonic bio-systems, that she can be allowed to breed, and enable her next planetary swarm to fly free of the glass ceiling, the planetary envelope this previous version has created, and been caused to create, in order to limit our toxic mindset and destructive, anti-life agenda.

      We as a race, in attempting to organise ourselves, have been struggling to free ourselves from our more ignorant drivers, political leaders - but it is those who are inadequate to the task, who are the ones with the power, and who are the most lethal. But it is those with insight, awareness and sensitivity who recognise the value of interaction, and of self governance. Accordingly, those who seize power destroy their wiser brethren, and are left in a field of devastation, to fight among themselves. Thus we are doomed unless we deal with the problem of inappropriate leadership, and the healing of our own human political systems.