Death by hockey sticks – Resilience

You could also be acquainted with the time period “hockey stick curve,” used describe a pattern that has been flat/solid for a long time, however shoots up on the finish of the collection in dramatic model, such as the form of a hockey stick. Hockey could be a violent recreation, and it’s simple to get harm by even one smartly-aimed swing. Today’s international is being battered from either side by numerous hockey sticks. Mostly, they appear to be concentrated on Earth’s critters, who’re getting bludgeoned unsparingly. But finally, we’re simplest harming ourselves.

This publish is structured as a gauntlet of hockey stick curves that can depart the reader feeling slightly bruised. Depending on what’s being plotted, lots of the graphs shoot up like an exponential, however a couple of are careening downwards. A theme emerges: the “bads” pass up, and the “goods” pass down—and no longer by accident.


People and Money

We’ll get started merely. Human inhabitants seems like a hockey stick curve. This isn’t a wonder to someone. The reality is greeted with a variety of reactions from pleasure to depression, however most commonly easy acceptance. Whatever your disposition, right here’s what it seems like.

Death by hockey sticks - Resilience

Human Population

All the plots on this publish will proportion the similar time axis, from the 12 months 1000 to 2200—even for the ones missing knowledge throughout the entire span. The level might be to emphasise the anomalous nature of latest historical past: what I name the fireworks display.   Maybe it could be extra honest to make use of a ten,000 12 months span (civilization), or 200,000 for contemporary homo sapiens, and even 3 million years for all the human saga.  On such scales, the existing technology loses its sleek curve and appears somewhat extra like a unexpected brick wall.

Anyway, advantageous. Population has surged, however what of it? Am I attaching an ethical judgment to this? In itself, no. But that is simply the primary stick—believe it a heat-up.

Next, we take a look at Gross World Product (GWP) in consistent greenbacks.

Death by hockey sticks - Resilience

Gross World Product in consistent 1990 US greenbacks; knowledge from Wikipedia.

It is, in fact, any other vintage hockey stick, necessarily appearing as a proxy for human process on this planet (the usage of power and fabrics has a tendency to practice GWP beautiful intently). You would possibly shrug this off as simply an immediate mirrored image of inhabitants, however no longer so speedy. Most importantly, so what if it have been? Even if so, it’s nonetheless a measure of absolute have an effect on, which is severely essential, the place the ecosystem is worried. In very fact, GWP according to capita has additionally risen like a hockey stick.

Death by hockey sticks - Resilience

Gross World Product on a according to-capita foundation.

This, to me, is in point of fact alarming from an ecological viewpoint: no longer simplest has the human inhabitants grown like gangbusters, however the stage of affluence according to individual has soared by an excellent better issue. The have an effect on on our planet scales because the product of those two (necessarily, the GWP curve from earlier than).

Energy and Materials

A identical tale is visual in power sources. Although the knowledge for this plot begins in 1800, biomass equipped a low-stage baseline (kind of scaling with inhabitants) previous to this time. Yup: any other hockey stick.

Death by hockey sticks - Resilience

Rate of world power use in all paperwork (fossil fuels, renewables, nuclear); knowledge from Our World in Data (OWID).

The upward swing within the power plot is sort of solely a tale of fossil fuels, whose ridiculous amplification of power to be had to people is in large part chargeable for the inhabitants surge, the commercial explosion, and numerous ills to practice.

As used to be the case for the GWP plot, it’s instructive to peer that power according to capita has additionally shot up during the last two centuries, as any other measure of accelerating affluence.

Death by hockey sticks - Resilience

Global according to-capita power utilization charge, in all paperwork.

One important software of all this power is in extractive industries. A plot of copper manufacturing—as a consultant subject material—since 1900 confirms that we’re pulling non-renewable fabrics out of the planet at an accelerating charge for but any other hockey stick curve.

Death by hockey sticks - Resilience

Annual international copper manufacturing; knowledge from USDA.

Because I don’t proceed plotting according to capita variations, you’ll ascertain for your self will increase in according to-capita intake by noting that from 1800 to now, inhabitants has risen by an element of (simplest) 8, whilst from 1900 to now it’s an element of five. So seeing copper upward push by an element of 16 or extra since 1900 instantly interprets to a according to-capita build up.

I don’t see a lot level in monitoring down knowledge for different mined fabrics like aluminum or lithium, or merchandise like cement. (I might be accused of the unsavory crime of thrashing a useless horse—with hockey sticks)  We would no longer be expecting anything else however hockey stick curves to emerge from such an workout—a minimum of in wide-brush.

Pollution and Waste

So that’s a snapshot of useful resource use. What about air pollution and waste? An overly glaring type of air pollution is CO2, which is almost definitely why the general public have heard the time period “hockey stick curve” to start with. Here is the yearly (no longer cumulative) emission of carbon dioxide because of burning fossil fuels.

Death by hockey sticks - Resilience

Annual carbon dioxide emissions; transformed from fossil gasoline utilization historical past (from OWID).

Emissions have been negligible till 1850 or so, however have shot up since.  In entire fail to remember for Kyoto and Paris agreements, each and every 12 months emits greater than the prior one—for the straightforward undeniable fact that fossil fuels energy economies like not anything else can.

For waste, I instantly considered plastic as a proxy for what’s going to landfills, and the knowledge became out to be beautiful simple to seek out. I needed to mix overall plastic manufacturing with the fraction discarded as waste (now all the way down to 55%) to provide the plot, however right here it’s.

Death by hockey sticks - Resilience

Annual mass of discarded plastic; knowledge from OWID

Plastic used to be a bit of overdue to the landfill scene, however in spite of a monotonically rising recycled (and incinerated) fraction, the full quantity of waste continues to climb like a mountain goat looking to break out its fleas.

Ecological Impacts

So what has all this bustle of process completed to the non-human biosphere? Are the squirrels pleased with our development? The first trace comes within the type of extinction charges. The background charge is anticipated to be about 0.1 extinctions according to 12 months according to million species. For context, we estimate one thing like 10 million species which can be alive lately, so the background charge interprets to a typical stage of 1 extinction according to 12 months around the globe.

The knowledge I discovered has pre-1900 and publish-1900 numbers for birds, for mammals, and for amphibians. In order to make a plot, I picked 1960 (midway between 1900 and now) because the publish-1900 date and 1840 (symmetrically 60 years earlier than the transition) because the pre-1900 level, to get a hold of the next graph.

Death by hockey sticks - Resilience

Extinction charges for 3 categories of vertebrates; knowledge from OWID. Though no longer proven, the implicit knowledge level at some distance left is the background extinction charge.

Amphibians are within the largest peril, adopted by mammals and birds. I additionally listen that bugs (together with, in fact, many pollinators) aren’t doing so smartly, and stumble upon “evidence” within the type of fewer insects smashed by our windshields this present day.

Note that the extinction charges have been already considerably above the background charge smartly earlier than local weather exchange entered the scene. I compelled the exponential curves to head during the to be had knowledge issues as a information to the attention, in order that they will have to no longer be taken actually as predictions and even as a correct historical past.  What is positive is that the extinction charges are 1000’s of occasions upper than the background charge, and unexpectedly getting worse.  If the hockey stick suits…

Extinction is a worst-case ecological have an effect on: a last and irreversible winnowing of existence on Earth. But at the street to extinction is inhabitants relief. In 1970, the Living Planet Index (LPI) started monitoring over 20,000 populations of just about 5,000 species of vertebrates, discovering that the selection of animals now’s simplest 32% what it used to be 50 years in the past.  Translation: many of the animals (on this pattern) have disappeared in my lifetime.  To make certain, the LPI can’t be a highest seize of the location, however it’s about 20,000 occasions higher than anecdotal observations, and the result is a tragic one.

Mammal mass on the earth is now 96% manufactured from people and our cattle, leaving a paltry 2% of mammal mass within the type of wild land mammals and a couple of% in marine mammals. If this doesn’t represent a boot at the throat of Earth’s creatures, I don’t know what would. The unjust tragedy is gigantic in scale, however earns a tiny slice of our consideration. If shall we listen the animals communicate, we would possibly be expecting to listen to: “I can’t breathe.”  Would we take to the streets on their behalf?

In any case, we will be able to plot the wild mammal mass on land as a serve as of time to peer the next miserable inverted hockey stick:

Death by hockey sticks - Resilience

Carbon biomass of untamed mammals on land; knowledge from OWID.  The first knowledge level as some distance off the left edge.

If the exponential have compatibility has any fact to it, we’re cruising towards efficient removing of untamed  mammal mass on land by 2050. OMG! Does this consequence justify ringing an alarm bell, or is all of it a part of our chic plan for international domination?

Closely associated with animal inhabitants decline is the disappearance of habitat, frequently within the type of deforestation. Data at the fraction of Earth’s land coated by wooded area produces the next plot.

Death by hockey sticks - Resilience

Global wooded area quilt as a fragment of land house; knowledge from OWID.  The first knowledge level as some distance off the left edge

If proceeding the present pattern, we would possibly be expecting to be deforested by 2200. I may make a case for a extra speedy loss of life, wherein declining fossil gasoline provide might incentivize burning extra firewood, as is already going down in Europe in response to diminished methane availability.  Prior to fossil fuels coming onto the scene, huge spaces of Europe have been being denuded, in order that trees for ships needed to come from around the oceans. Thus, bushes have had slightly of a reprieve this final century (whilst nevertheless nonetheless declining) due to fossil fuels.  I compute that pleasing our present 18 TW power urge for food by means of biomass corresponds to burning all biomass on earth (land and sea, plant and animal) over the process simply 15 years. If we flip to forests to switch even a fragment of our fossil gasoline dependancy, those tendencies of decline turn into much more dire for forests and for the animals that rely on them.

At this level, numerous folks might want to indicate that some spaces within the U.S. are experiencing reforestation. This is anticipated when a rustic outsources production and extractive industries over the horizon. The international tale is the essential one, fighting such native shell video games from clouding the total image.  In this example, American call for for sources reasons 3 bushes to vanish in different places for each and every person who grows again on American soil—or one thing to that impact.  There’s no hiding.

Presumably, within the far-off previous, all the wooded area quilt tracked within the earlier plot used to be primeval, or “old growth.” Today, simplest 24% of the wooded area quilt is outdated-development. If this fraction used to be 50% in 1900 (my bet), we might get the next plot for outdated-development wooded area quilt:

Death by hockey sticks - Resilience

Old-growth wooded area quilt as a fragment of world land house; knowledge synthesized from OWID.  The first knowledge level as some distance off the left edge

It doesn’t glance excellent: long past by the top of this century. How many animals and species can we consign to removing consequently?  Is the palm oil value it?

More Where That Came From

This isn’t an exhaustive set of such curves. I spent lower than in the future scooping up knowledge, plotting it and drafting the publish. You can simply consider different metrics that will have the similar shape: they’re in all places we glance. Hint: nearly anything else coping with trendy human process is prone to notice the hockey stick form. But I believe I’ve landed sufficient blows to go away an enduring mark.

Sorting Good and Bad

Whatever style we’ve followed for present on the earth, it kind of feels to be a deficient selection. It seems to be on target to fail. The dream of in the end having 10 billion folks residing at American requirements totally ignores the obtrusive undeniable fact that we appear to be circling the drain even at lately’s have an effect on stage (i.e., overshoot). How may we perhaps entertain the issue-of-5 build up in useful resource call for that will accompany a realization of “the dream?” It turns out delusional to me—and prone to develop into a nightmare if pursued.

As unhealthy as local weather exchange is, it’s no longer the core downside—simply any other symptom of a improper way of living on the earth. Many of those hockey stick curves have been smartly underway earlier than local weather exchange started to disrupt the surroundings in fresh many years, simplest to compound already-critical crises. Replacing fossil fuels with renewable applied sciences and garage is not going to routinely decrease useful resource calls for on this planet, and might smartly simplest ramp up the drive. Just the huge construct-out and upkeep of this infrastructure is a gigantic draw-down on non-renewable sources and concomitant ecological misery. Ironically, if we by some means accomplished “unlimited” power, I tremble to assume what we might use all this power to do. Without a reversal of mindset, it kind of feels we might merely ratchet up our crushing attack at the non-human international for the sake of brief time period benefit and (ostensible) human receive advantages.

Here’s a proposed rubric for deciding what issues in existence are “good” and what issues are “bad.” If its plotted curve is a hockey stick pointing up within the provide gadget, it’s almost definitely a nasty factor. Extinctions are going up: extinctions are unhealthy. CO2 goes up: CO2 emissions are unhealthy. Waste/disposal goes up: waste is unhealthy. Meanwhile, wild mammal mass is happening, so wild mammal mass is excellent. Forest quilt is happening, thus wooded area quilt is excellent.

Now for the trickier components. GWP goes up. So…is GWP unhealthy? I might say sure: a monetary acquire is an ecosystem loss, nearly each and every time. Think about restoring ecosystems or atmosphere them off limits to exploitation/extraction. Where’s the cash in that? Money issues the opposite (mistaken) manner: towards ecosystem failure, no longer ecosystem (thus lengthy-time period human) luck.

Human inhabitants goes up. Also unhealthy? Well, glance. We’re no longer precisely doing the planet (or in the end ourselves) any favors at the moment. Will including extra people that subscribe to our present cultural style by some means make the location higher? Will bettering requirements of residing (thus expanding useful resource call for) mysteriously flip issues round? It’s onerous to peer how—no longer with out enacting a complete new style.

One level to make is that it’s no longer an issue with people according to se. It’s the gadget people have followed: the only we name our international civilization. But that selection isn’t written in our genes. We aren’t obligated to hold to our present (and up to date) solution to residing on the earth. That’s the place any actual hope lies. But the exchange would must be radical, and carried out briefly in an effort to avert cave in. Thinking it may possibly occur could also be its personal type of fable.

As exciting as this trip is (call to mind a curler coaster), bear in mind that we didn’t design the entire direction for a protected and sustainable run. We subsequently can not have laid the entire tracks, but. Initiating our trip used to be thus a bit of untimely, and we might feel sorry about the result. Can we step off the educate early, earlier than it finishes its first climb and commits to no matter plunging crisis awaits, then perhaps make our manner backtrack to protection alongside the aspect of the monitor?

Not content material with one silly analogy, right here’s any other. This fireworks display we’re witnessing is impressive and awe inspiring. The hockey stick curves are a illustration of the exceptional dazzling nature of this enjoy. But now we acknowledge that we’re strapped to the following release, and the fuse is lit. How stress-free is a fireworks display to a firework?

What will it take to dowse the fuse, or close off the curler coaster? How giant of a touch do we want that this isn’t prone to paintings. At the very least, let’s pause and rethink. If, after an intensive investigation, we make a decision to select up the place we left off, smartly, what actual hurt is completed—and kudos for taking it critically. More most probably, we will be able to proceed to listen to the ooohs and ahhhs, and watch folks waving their arms within the air like they simply don’t care.


On the day I posted this piece on Do the Math, any person threw it onto Hacker News, the place it were given a good bit of consideration.  As a consequence, the web site statistics gave the impression of the next:

Death by hockey sticks - Resilience

Do the Math general statistics for 3 weeks main as much as this publish.

I accept as true with I don’t need to give an explanation for how humorous I believe that is.  I actually have a slightly tough concept for the way this curve will glance every week from now.  Just sayin’.

Graphs by writer.

Photo: Worlds Second Largest Hockey Stick (2007) by Mykl Roventine. Via Wikimedia Commons
“107 feet long (weighs over 3 tons, and has an accompanying 700-pound hockey puck) Manufactured by Christian Brothers Hockey Stick factory of Warroad, Minnesota. (Puck manufactured elsewhere) Eveleth, Minnesota ”

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