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A Letter to a Friend

 Dear Friend,

I do not mention your name, for you can be anyone on the whole Earth. You could have any color of skin, and belong to any tribe and clan. You could give offerings to any Gods and believe in any myths. In modern impersonal terms, you could be of any race, nationality, religion and political creed, and be of any sex whatsoever.  It took us a million years to develop that big, complex brain of ours. Some 100,000 years ago, in the harsh, frigid climate of Europe and Asia, there were perhaps a few hundred of us left on the brink of extinction.  But we did not go extinct then and here we are, my friend and brother, all 7.8 billion of us.

Gregory, John Walter 1896 - 1968, The Great Rift Valley. London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd. This Sketch by Gregory from his expedition to East Africa in 1892-3. shows "Mount Kenya from the Kapte Plains west of Machakos".

Learned people say that we must have come from Africa, mostly from the Great Rift Valley:

"Our species, Homo sapiens, is highly autapomorphic (uniquely derived) among hominids in the structure of its skull and postcranial skeleton. It is also sharply distinguished from other organisms by its unique symbolic mode of cognition. The fossil and archaeological records combine to show fairly clearly that our physical and cognitive attributes both first appeared in Africa, but at different times. Essentially modern bony conformation was established in that continent by the 200–150 Ka range (a dating in good agreement with dates for the origin of H. sapiens derived from modern molecular diversity). The event concerned was apparently short-term because it is essentially unanticipated in the fossil record. In contrast, the first convincing stirrings of symbolic behavior are not currently detectable until (possibly well) after 100 Ka. The radical reorganization of gene expression that underwrote the distinctive physical appearance of H. sapiens was probably also responsible for the neural substrate that permits symbolic cognition. This exaptively acquired  [we developed a function that was not brought about by natural selection, TWP] potential lay unexploited until it was “discovered” via a cultural stimulus, plausibly the invention of language. Modern humans appear to have definitively exited Africa to populate the rest of the globe only after both their physical and cognitive peculiarities had been acquired within that continent."

Think of this, please, my white, unvaccinated Republican friend from Alabama.  You and your black brother from Oakland, California, share almost everything, and most certainly the same human brain that allows you to filter reality, and refuse to see, hear and understand what the ancient limbic and reptilian parts of your triune brain tell you not to.  For both of you, my brothers - and for me - it is difficult to really understand the words we have not grown up with, and have not been hurt by. I, in particular, am a little better off, because I am writing this essay in the the third language I learned, using words I could not possibly know as a child. But this makes little difference, because we all, I mean all, are connected in an infinite number of ways, share the same ancient memories and instincts, and deceive ourselves in similar ways.  We really do not understand the words we use to describe the happenings that impact all of us at the same time in ways that are difficult to categorize as imminent physical threats.

So how did I come to writing about how we really understand words?  Well, I  am preparing a graduate course: Earth, Environment, Energy and Economics. I have been teaching this course since my time at Berkeley.  The course has its own 533 page book I will publish one of these days, and a myriad of well-chosen and documented examples, based on rigorous science.  I like to teach this course differently each time I offer it. 

While preparing the first three class lectures for this fall, I started reminiscing that I have been warning people about overpopulation, devastation of the environment, mass extinctions, pollution, climate heating, biofuels, tropical plantations, industrial agriculture, overconsumption, etc.  for the last 20 years, with the results that were always below my expectations.  Yes, the students have been telling me that this course was a life-altering experience for them, but  - I thought - how could I convey to them the sheer horror of the subjects I have been covering? Could I ever show them my real indignation and rage, the crushing pain and fear for my own children and grandson?  

A little earlier, on June 25, 2021, I gave a presentation to the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences (here, minute 7:40; the slides are in English, but I speak Polish).  Since the presentation was a short 20 minutes, I cut off from it the slide shown below. More about the Himalayan glaciers later.

A friend of mine, Professor Sigurjon Jonsson, invited his Icelandic friend,  Grimur Bjornsson to listen to my presentation at the Geothermal Energy Conference in KAUST.  Later, Grimur sent me this note and book:
It turns out that Grimur knows a famous Icelandic story teller and writer, Andri Snaer Magnason, and thought that Andri's book, On Time and Water, would be good for me to read.

Finally, on August 10, I started reading this profound and enchanted book, and understood what was missing from my well-prepared lectures.  Simple stories were missing or were hidden behind the impersonal, calmly delivered, techno-scientific babble, like my talk in Poland, which was designed for a broader audience. (As a scientist I am not supposed to shout and cry, or use colloquial language.  It is not my societal role.)

If I asked you about the death of your beloved uncle in a car accident or from cancer, you could  picture clearly what happened, and how this event affected you. But what if I asked you about an event that killed 100 people? Like so many street executions in Warsaw during WWII,  in which both of my wife's grandfathers disappeared without a trace? Would you be able to see the terror in the faces of these people, when a heavy machine gun opened fire on them from a military transport truck after two German soldiers suddenly lifted a canvas curtain concealing it? Could you imagine their 100 bodies being trucked to some mass grave? Would you picture how this mass murder affected Joanna's mother and father, who at the time did not know each other? How did it affect the victims' wives and siblings? Other people? (One of the grandfathers had been a university profesor of linguistics.)  Now, what if I asked you about the A-bomb explosion over Hiroshima?  Could you explain the explosion's fury?  How it blew through the lives of hundreds of thousands of people there, including the 170,000 dead?  No, you can't, and neither can I.  But at least we can imagine that single elderly person, who evaporated in a split-second leaving a permanent shadow burned into the stone pavement.
Can you picture this elderly person walking down a street with a cane?

Do you see where I am going with this?  What will you be able to imagine when I say "climate change"?  Or "ecological overshoot"? Or "global warming"?  Or the "Sixth Extinction"?  In short, what if I asked you about something that affects 7.8 billion people and is likely to kill off slowly many tens or hundreds of millions of us?  Well,  first "climate change" is not something that you've been hearing since you were a baby when your mother tried to scare you.  Second, you'd have a hard time connecting "climate change" to what is going to happen to your life, children, family and friends.  Third, the enormity of this phenomenon puts it beyond grasp of almost all people, but it is often reduced to that stupid cartoon in the Wall Street Journal that was supposed to amplify an editorial by a smart person, whose malevolent goal was to move you into inaction and apathy.  You see, the evil power of this cartoon is that it reconnects you to things you know and understand, like the hysterical old ladies, and makes you think that climate change, the scientist warnings and what you see with your own eyes are just these nonsensical ladies being hysterical. Fear of ridicule is a very powerful social driver that will move you away from those undesirable (literally "uncool") climate scientists.

AR6 is the latest IPCC Report on climate change.  The owl, chicken, turkeys and other birds are the scientists, journalists and other media people who rightly fear climate change. Source: "Climate Change Brings a Flood of Hyperbole -  Despite constant warnings of catastrophe, things aren’t anywhere near as dire as the media say." By Steven E. Koonin, WSJ Editorial,  8/10/21 6:33 pm ET.

This brings me back to Andri's magnificent book.  You see, on page 79, after he made me shed tears about five times, Andri starts talking about the Himalayan glaciers as a way of connecting with the Dalai Lama he is about to interview.  I am sorry, but you, my Chinese brothers, will be now blocked from reading this text across China, because your hypersensitive government thinks that this gentle, old person with no army presents a mortal threat to their brand of controlling everything but the climate change and environmental collapse. Too bad, because many tens of millions of you will be impacted directly by what I am about to say.

Andri wanted to find a simple story that would connect Iceland, India, the Tibetan Plateau, China, and the life-giving glaciers that are about to disappear  impacting directly some 20% of the living humans and their unborn babies. That story presents herself as a sacred cow, or the Cow Goddess.

Summarizing Andri's story on pages 84-87, the Icelandic world began with the cow Auduhumla, who was created from hoarfrost. Auduhumla nursed Yamir, from whom the world was created. His blood became the oceans and waters, his flesh the Earth, his hair became forests and his brain clouds.

At the foot of he sacred Mount Kailash (the white peak in the background) is Manasarovar Lake, the highest elevation lake in the world.

In India, according to Hindu legends, there is Kamadhenu, a cow of abundance and plenty, closely related to Pritvi, who is the Earth herself, often depicted as a cow. In the Himalayas there is the sacred  Mount Kailash, home to the throne of the god Shiva. At the foot of Mount Kailash is Manasarovar Lake. From this region originate four of the most sacred rivers in Asia, flowing in all cardinal directions:
  • Indus River is 3200 km long flowing from Tibet through Western India and into Pakistan
  • Sutlej runs about 1500 km from Tibet through India and Pakistan
  • Brahmaputra travels 3000 km through India and Bangladesh, before joining the Ganges River
  • Karnali flows through Napal, and forms a large tributary of the Ganges
One of the India's holiest sites lies at the foot of the Himalayas, in Uttarakhand state. There, one finds a valley glacier by the name of Gomukh that feeds the foaming white waters of one of the most important headstreams of the Ganges. 'Go-mukh' literally means the mouth of the cow.  

The milky appearance of the Ganges headwaters comes from the suspended and dissolved minerals from the rock pulverized and scraped by the glacier. The Ganges River is the most sacred river to Hindus. Her water is called 'nectar' in India, because it gives life to countless fields and crops. A similar observation applies to the four rivers  listed above.

The minerals-laden, milky water of the Karnali River in Napal.  If you want to live 100 years you must drink this water.  Soon this river will be no more.

The fifth river I will mention here is the Mekong, or Mekong River, the world's twelfth longest river and the sixth longest in Asia. Its estimated length is 4,900 km and it drains an area of 795,000 sq. km, discharging 475 cubic km of water annually.  From the Tibetan Plateau the river runs through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. 

I have to stop somewhere, so I will finish with the Yangtze River, the longest river in Asia. That river originates from several tributaries in the eastern part of the Tibetan Plateau. The Yangtze has played a major role in the history, culture and economy of China. For thousands of years, the river has been used for water, irrigation, sanitation, transportation, industry, boundary-marking and war. The prosperous Yangtze River Delta generates as much as 20% of China's GDP. The Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze is the largest hydro-electric power station in the world. In mid-2014, the Chinese government announced it was building a multi-tier transport network, comprising railways, roads and airports, to create a new economic belt alongside the river.

Are you beginning to realize what "global warming" really means for close to two billion people? How their lives and prosperity depend on the glacial rivers emanating from that most sacred cow on the Earth, the Tibetan Plateau?  Tibet itself is a miracle of plate tectonics. Geologically speaking, it exploded up in no time and now it shapes lives of 1/3 of all living humans. 

Here's how this slow-paced tragedy will unfold. First, as the glaciers continue to melt at the highest rates measured by humans, there will be increased flooding and damage. Then the glaciers will be gone and with them most or all of these live-giving rivers.  In spring, torrents of melt water from the rapidly melting snow packs will rush down, causing landslides and floods.  Through the rest of the year, there will be no water flow from the mountains and drought punctured by occasional heavy rains, like below.  We will run out of places to build dams. 

Landslides from heavy reinfall hit the central Japanese city of Atami on July 3, leaving at least 20 people missing. (The Washington Post)

The roughly two billion humans, who depend on these rivers will wither too.  Do you see the parched fields, and thirsty people migrating and dying?  But where will they go? Now click on some of the links in the text and soak in the beauty of these magnificent rivers and landscapes. Geologically speaking, they will disappear in a blink. Puff!

So now you know what a "1.5 to 3 degrees C" global warming will translate to for the countless people, our brothers, most of whom never benefitted from the runaway consumption of the planet we - you and I - engage in.  I wish Steve Koonin, the man I have known for years, read this blog and wrote a contrition letter to WSJ.  Alas, he will not. 

A gift from my British friend, Mike Haywood.

And here is a song that goes with this blog SO WELL (from Mike too). If something else pops out,  like Sir Stinking Liar Richard Bronson (as I was warned by a friend in a different country), here are the lyrics.

And to live in one of the most unsustainable, poorly designed cities. This is what happens to trees in the desert, when they collide with a promise of monetary profit.

P.S.P.S. (08/20/2021) It Rained at the Summit of Greenland. That’s Never Happened Before. Please read the readers' comments.  They provide a vivid testimony to the importance of this blog. The  misunderstanding, denial, and aggressive attempts to call climate change a 'good thing' are striking.

"Above-freezing conditions at Summit [2 miles above sea level, TWP] are nearly as rare. Before this century, ice cores showed they had occurred only six times in the past 2,000 years, Martin Stendel, a senior researcher at the Danish Meteorological Institute, wrote in an email message. But above-freezing temperatures have now occurred at Summit in 2012, 2019 and this year — three times in fewer than 10 years."

Athens, the hottest city in Europe is only getting hotter and becoming unlivable.  It now has the Chief Heat Officer. 

(8/28/2021) Bolsonaro says Brazil is on the brink of energy collapse and announced a rate hike.  The huge dams are in critical situation. Some of them are at 10% of their capacity due to severe drought in the Parana basin that also affects their Argentinean neighbor downstream. 


  1. I am afraid my scientific hero Tad and his loved ones have been poisoned by Big Pharma covid jabs. Tad's posts are getting more and more dementic and Bidenic. What if Tad is paid by Bill Gates?

    1. @Anonymous,
      I think that the reptilian and limbic brains are using you as a medium. Logic and reason are then prevented from entering your consciousness, and you end up with an ad hominem attack on me. You do this because of the strong negative emotions that are driving you, and you’d anything to assuage them.
      You may want to see this 7-minute documentary video from the Ozarks. It shows several people who sound just like you:

    2. Also, please look at this interactive map of the US counties. This map shows where the good Ozark people and their cousins live:
      The message is unmistakable. Can you tell what this message is?

    3. @Anonymous,

      “One of the greatest regrets in life is being what others would want you to be, rather than being yourself.” ― Shannon L. Alder

  2. Dear Tad,
    Your essay evokes this part of the “Sound of Silence,” written by Paul Simon in 1964

    "Fools" said I, "You do not know
    Silence like a cancer grows
    Hear my words that I might teach you
    Take my arms that I might reach you"
    But my words like silent raindrops fell
    And echoed in the wells of silence "

    Nabila Bounceur

    Full lyrics here:

    1. Thank you, dear Nabila. This stanza points out the essential feature of human nature: our uncanny ability to filter facts and adjust them according to our beliefs and emotions. Our faith in rational behavior of and decisions by humans is rather misplaced. A recent example of Darwinian elimination of the unfit to survive is here:
      The poor Caleb found himself on the wrong side of an eulogy. May he rest in peace.


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