Archive for the ‘Collapse’ Category
For bringing former LAPD narcotics investigator Michael C. Ruppert to my attention, I am indebted to my Sister and Nephew. As Wikipedia points out, having been appalled by the reality of corruption within the CIA over 20 years ago, Ruppert has most recently been trying to help people to face up to the consequences of denying human responsibility for environmental problems for over 10 years. Indeed, if I had been fairly consistently ignored for over 10 years like Ruppert has, I think I would be both angry and upset. Thus, I guess, it should not be that surprising that in the 80-minute video appended below, Ruppert exhibits both of these emotions. However, what is most striking is the fact that he is almost entirely calm and rational (although there are quite a few instances of the F-word towards the end).
Michael Ruppert’s message is very similar to that of Jared Diamond, which I summarised nearly a year ago. Indeed, Diamond’s 2005 book – Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed - may well have been the inspiration for this You Tube video – of Ruppert’s 2009 film – entitled simply Collapse. A year ago, I was particularly impressed by Diamond because of his background as a mining consultant – and inclined to take notice of his warnings from history and professional experience as a result. Today, I am equally – if not more – impressed by Ruppert; and find his grasp of a whole realm of issues – politics, history, science, economics – incredibly impressive.
I spent Christmas with my Mum and my Sister; but returned from my trip with the cynical words of my Sister – “every generation of humans has included people who thought they were living in apocalyptic times” – ringing in my ears. Totally unprompted by me, watching this video has made her question her own cynicism. So, if you have ever been tempted by such cynicism and unwarranted optimism; the belief that you can – or should – second-guess the opinions of the vast majority of genuine experts; and/or tempted to trust people who are very clearly motivated to reject science in favour of politics, economics or ideology – please watch this video. It could well be the most significant things you will ever do.
With my thanks to Bill McKibben’s 350.org for the illustration shown here, I should wish to build on my recent posts about the nature of sustainable development.
We live in what the ancient Chinese would have undoubtedly considered “interesting times”:
– Dennis Meadows described it as being the consequences of the Earth running out of the ability to cope with human pollution.
– E.F. Schumacher described it as an inevitable consequence of humans mistaking Nature’s capital for a source of income.
– Herman Daly referred to it as having reached the point at which we have to accept the reality of “uneconomic growth” (i.e. accept that further growth does more damage than good).
Whatever you want to call it – we have arrived.
As a result of decades of dismissing those that warned us of an approaching crisis as “bourgeois left-wing academics”, it is now finally becoming clear that the rate at which humans are polluting the environment has now exceeded Nature’s capacity to assimilate and/or recycle all our waste: We are like the crew of Apollo 13 – except that they acknowledged the reality of their situation and had a team of dedicated scientists and engineers working on a solution. Humanity today is, in large part, still arguing about the nature of reality – and ignoring the dedicated scientists and engineers who have been demanding a change of energy policy for decades.
As well as writing my own post about such denial on Monday (i.e. published yesterday), I also commented on a similar piece on the website of The Carbon Brief. Then, yesterday, amongst all the insane voices of denial with which that very sensible website appears to be afflicted, I spotted some extremely wise words by another commenter, Composer99:
Asserting that Carbon Brief is incorrect or ‘shifting goalposts’ over and over does not make it so.
David Rose’s claims about global warming are false, whether due to ignorance or motivated reasoning (which are excusable) or incompetence or dishonesty (which are not). As long as the Earth system continues to build up energy, global warming is still happening. That energy is distributed throughout the Earth (atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, biosphere, surface). The data provided by Carbon Brief makes it unambiguously clear that this is indeed the case.
That pseudoskeptics must focus on but a tiny portion of this distribution – surface temperatures – to make their case for a “pause” is telling. Only if you focus on surface temperatures and ignore the other components of the Earth climate system can such a case be made.
As much as I for one would love for it not to be the case, global warming goes on, unabated.
We therefore need to focus on solving the problem; but we will not do this unless or until our politicians stop believing that de-carbonising our power generation systems will take decades. We don’t have that luxury. However, even more fundamentally, we need to stop wasting money chasing evermore scarce and hard to recover resources (that will only ever become more expensive) and invest our time and money on facilitating the utilisation of renewable resources (with technology that will only ever become cheaper).
Unlike in conventional economics, where the deferred cost of future expenditure is discounted (to allow for the impacts of inflation), the costs of climate change mitigation and/or adaptation are only going to increase because, as the severity of the adverse impacts of ACD increase, the speed with which solutions will have to be implemented will increase also.
All in all, I think it would be a good idea to start now: Even though we cannot spend our way out of a global debt crisis, deceiving ourselves that we are not in an environmental crisis will not change the nature of reality. For a significant proportion of species on the planet today, continuing policy inaction and problem denial will not be a survivable option.
We have already mortgaged our own future as a result of decades of insane debate and ineffective policy. If we do not change course now, we will be stealing from our children and grandchildren a perfectly legitimate aspiration they may not even know they have: We are not treating the Earth the way we would wish to be treated ourselves (i.e. with respect); and we have therefore failed to leave the Earth as we found it… As meteorologist, Jeff Masters has put it:
“This is not the atmosphere I grew up with!”
Most of those that deny the nature of reality are not doing so because they are being paid to do it (or even because they are willfully blind); they have just been duped by the Merchants of Doubt that say:
“Anthropogenic CO2 is not the cause of the climate change we are now witnessing; and
anyone who says otherwise is just trying to restrict your freedom and/or spoil your fun!”
It really is that simple. However, the hallucinatory drugs we have been taking will not work much longer. It is time to wake up and deal with the uncomfortable, numbing, reality that our stupidity has now begun to irreversibly change the Earth’s climate. Therefore the only question left to answer is:
Just how bad does it have to get before we all start trying to do something about it?
So then, how can we know for certain that CO2 is the main cause of the problem? Well, try this graph :
The graph above (available on the Wikipedia website) demonstrates that cyclical solar activity (variation in total solar irradiance (TSI), sunspots or anything else) cannot explain ongoing warming of the last 150 years. However, as Patrice Ayme pointed out in 2009, it does explain why the warming that has occurred – and is occurring – has not been consistent (also due to the cooling effects of other industrial pollutants, volcanic eruptions, etc.). In other words, global warming did not stop in 1998 (etc).
So will people now please stop saying things that are not true?
TSI may be more than 1 kW per square metre (which is an awful lot of energy but, be fair, the Earth has grown accustomed to being bombarded by it). However, what the Earth is struggling to cope with is the comparatively recent and sudden reduction in outgoing long-wave radiation caused by atmospheric CO2. This change may be small by comparison with TSI but it is still an order of magnitude greater than the change that brought the Earth out of the last Ice Age. This is why the Earth is warming up faster than it did then. Furthermore, now that the melting of terrestrial ice is accelerating; sea level rise will now do the same.
The longer we ignore what is happening the harder it will be to stop, mitigate and/or adapt.
Unfortunately, we cannot press CTRL+ALT+DEL to re-boot the system. Therefore, perhaps it is time we visited the Control Panel / Task Manager to stop the process that is in danger of crashing the computer?
I have been using this analogy a lot recently. This is because, as I explained to potentially-baffled readers on Learning from Dogs recently, I am using it to summarise the essence of the final part in Schalk’s recent series on the unfolding collapse of the global economy: That the people with the power will not relinquish it voluntarily and, in the meantime, they have our politicians completely fixated on burning fossil fuels simply because “they are there”…
This may be a legitimate reason to climb mountains; but it is no way to manage a planet.
I summarised all of the above in my previous two posts but, once again, with my thanks to Schalk Cloete (Oneinabillion blog), let me re-state the potential solutions and the obstacles we face, as simply as possible:
The potential solutions (see Schalk’s Heal the System):
– Minimise our wasteful consumption of non-renewable resources and energy.
– Eliminate business and economic practices that encourage over-consumption.
– Live within our means and start paying-off our currently mortgaged future.
– Educate women in poor countries to eliminate excessive population growth.
The obstacles to implementation (see Schalk’s Practical Challenges):
– Convince hundreds of millions of people that consuming things will not make them happy.
– Invest in things that benefit society (not those who are already wealthy).
– Spend less than we earn and save the rest (not spend more and borrow the difference).
– Acknowledge the needs of future generations (not just assert our rights to please ourselves).
With my thanks to Pendantry, one of the most faithful visitors to this blog, I have become aware that the day on which our annual consumption of the Earth’s resources exceeded its annual supply, Earth Overshoot Day, was 22 August this year. I find this particularly shocking because Earth Overshoot Day was 27 September last year. That is 36 days earlier (86% of the time it took last year). I am not sure how such a large change since last year can be possible (it is certainly not sustainable) but even if the goalposts have been moved in some way, we certainly should not be complacent.
Use it up and wear it out is OK when cleaning your teeth; but it’s no way to manage a planet.
With my thanks to JPGreenword, another faithful friend of this site, I offer these very prescient words of wisdom from one of the greatest scientists that the World has ever known:
“The world will not evolve past its current state of crisis by using the same thinking that created the situation.” – Albert Einstein
Finally, I must return to something else Schalk has written, this time as a guest post on Learning from Dogs, where he says that we must… “motivate people to take action by strongly emphasizing on the immediate personal benefits of making these lifestyle changes…”
It is often said that charity begins at home but, so to, it seems, will revolution. However, the revolution we now need is not merely political – it is psychological and metaphysical. To be sure, political revolution has been tried; and it has always failed. Therefore, what humans need now is a revolution of the mind; such that we may all perceive what we are doing to this planet and – in addition to living within our own individual means – live within the our planetary means.
I’m spending my kids’ inheritance is OK as a car sticker; but it’s no way to manage a planet.
I think the solution therefore lies in getting our politicians to look beyond the ballot box – to see the World that we are currently bequeathing to our children – and if that requires widespread civil disobedience, so be it. We may think we live in a democracy, where government of the people, by the people, for the people, has been a longstanding benefit. Sadly, however, if it was ever a reality, it is now a cruel myth because, in almost every case, what we are suffering from at present is government of the people, by the politicians, for the plutocrats.
I believe we can get the turkeys to vote for Christmas.
However, nothing worthwhile has ever been achieved without a struggle. Therefore, in order to do this, we must break the stranglehold that big business has upon our politicians. Sadly, this is an almost impossible task but, if anything can precipitate it, I am certain that the realisation that we face an impending ecological catastrophe can do it. The alternative, of course, is that which Jared Diamond has described in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, in that governments spend more and more money ensuring their own survival rather than tackling the cause of their growing instability.
I really do hope we can avoid that scenario but, if we are to do so – if we are to get our political turkeys to vote for a carbon-free Christmas – we will have to convince them we must all become “vegetarians”; and invite them to join us as we celebrate with the nutloaf of renewable energy instead of the meat of fossil fuels.
Some young boys are infatuated with their teachers (of either gender). However, thanks to the influence of a slightly older friend, I was totally sold-out on the classic British prog-rock band YES…
Their albums were all brilliant (or so at least I thought at the time); as was the artwork produced by Roger Dean. At one time, I almost had a complete collection of them: I think my favourite was Fragile – for both its music and its artwork. In fact, wow, this is somewhat disconcerting, could it be that this is where my almost subconscious concern for the environment originally came from…?
I still don’t know what Close to the Edge was all about lyrically or, indeed, if it was about anything in particular; but the incorporation and/or electronic generation of sound-effects (like dripping water) in the recording was truly ground-breaking. It is perhaps time, then, for a trip down memory lane…
As you ponder the transient nature – and possibly perilous position – of our existence on planet Earth, I hope you will therefore enjoy this amazing juxtaposition of a live performance of part of Close to the Edge with awesome helicopter video footage of Angel Falls in Venezuela; the Grand Canyon; the Serengeti and Victoria Falls in Africa…
Will all those who are inclined to indulge in blame-shifting arguments please note that I do not own a video camera; I have never been in a helicopter; and I have never flown to or over the locations featured in this video.
Update (16 August 2012): For a better appreciation of YES’ artistic merit watch this:
I must thank fellow-blogger Paul Handover for alerting me to – and not posting on his own Learning from Dogs blog – the strange and disturbing real-life story of a man in Oregon who has been sent to jail for a month for collecting rain that fell on his property. When Paul first emailed me about this, I must admit my initial response was one of astonishment. “Whatever next”, I said, “will someone be arrested for sunbathing?”
However, when you read the background to the story, it turns out that the man has been sent to jail as a result of legal action started ten years ago by the Medford Water Commission (MWC), who have argued (successfully it would appear) that the rain falling from the sky within their catchment area belongs to them. Their case rested upon the wording of a State law (dating from 1925) that granted to the MWC full ownership of – and rights to – the water. This makes me wonder whether similar laws have been enacted in other States of the USA but, since I live in the UK, I will leave that to others to investigate…
This may seem ridiculous and insane; and to be even more absurd than people arguing about who owns the land – as Crocodile Dundee (the alter-ego of Australian comedian Paul Hogan) famously equated to being “like fleas arguing about who owns the dog…” However, I think it raises some very important questions.
In rural parts of the USA, it is my understanding that, as the land was settled by early pioneers they were granted ownership of land and the groundwater beneath it on a first-come, first-served basis. In his book, Collapse, Jared Diamond painted a very vivid picture of how this policy has run into trouble in the beautiful Bitterroot Valley area of southwest Montana: As it becomes increasingly over-populated there is – quite simply – not enough water to go around. However, I was not aware that government agencies at City, County, State or Federal level might be able to claim prior ownership of atmospheric water vapour before it actually falls to Earth because they need it to suppress fires. It may well be that the City of Medford is unique (or at least very unusual) but what of the important questions this raises…? Well, perhaps the situation in the UK will make these clearer:
Rightly or wrongly, Margaret Thatcher privatised the business of water supply and drainage back in the 1980’s. Prior to that Water Authorities were public institutions. However, whether they were publicly-owned or – as now – private enterprises, the fact remains that the vast majority of UK citizens do not have access to a private water supply (i.e. stream, spring, well, or borehole) – they rely on it being supplied to them. Furthermore, most abstractions from either surface or groundwater for domestic purposes are exempt from licensing (although it is likely this will change in the future as over-licensed and/or over-abstracted resources become more common).
Therefore, if citizens expect their water supply to be provided to them, it is understandable that the relevant water authority will seek to protect its ability to collect rainfall or groundwater and, if so, for others to collect it would indeed become a form of poaching.
It seems to me that this story plays into the hands of those libertarians and climate sceptics who want us all to worry about an over-bearing State (i.e. an autocratic government that seeks to control every aspect of our lives and limit our freedom)… or a dangerous and exploitative monopoly making huge profits out of selling people things that are essential for life (i.e. what will be next – sunshine and clean air?)…
However, if libertarians were to win every argument, Garret Hardin’s ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ outcome would be guaranteed. Hardin used the analogy of medieval commons owned by nobody but used to graze animals by everybody. In such a situation, Hardin suggested, each individual seeking to maximise their own benefit will place more and more animals on the commons unless or until it becomes over-grazed and useless. However, the best modern day analogy would be fish in the sea: No-one owns them but if we over-fish them, they will disappear… After over half a century, the European Union (EU) has still to resolve this problem: It tried to claim common ownership of the seas – and make fishing a common market but it has spent much of the last 50 years rolling-back on this principle. As such, we have ended-up with the absurdity of the EU dictating who can fish where and when and for how long; with quotas for individual boats; and dead fish being thrown back into the sea.
So then, the Oregon man has in effect been jailed for poaching. You could see this as a very dangerous precedent to set or… You could argue that the only alternative is no centralised provision of forest fire-fighting or water supply; because this will not be possible if everyone decides to catch and use all the rain that falls on their property.
As I said many months ago now:
When you live in a wilderness, it is probably safe to treat a passing river as your source of drinking water, washing room, and toilet. However, if you are unfortunate enough to live in a Mumbai slum, this will almost certainly contribute to causing your premature death.
If we ever did, most of us do not live in a wilderness any longer; and, given that an environment’s capacity to support life determines how many people it can support, even one person in a desert could make it over-populated. Therefore:
When the early European settlers of North America began to move west in search of new lands and new opportunities, a Frontier mentality was understandable. However, to retain such an attitude today is socially unacceptable and morally irresponsible.
Humanity today has a choice: We must either recognise that there are ecological limits to the number of humans the Earth can physically cope with (especially if we are all going to live comfortably); or we will have those limits imposed on us by force: Collapse or Ecocide – which will it be?…
Or do we have a third choice – survival? I hope the jury is still out on that one.
Over the last two days, I have explained why I am not a Socialist (despite dabbling with it in the past); and why I have lost my faith in Capitalism (despite being unavoidably enmeshed in it to this day)… So, what is the answer? Is there a “Third Way”…?
Yes, I think there is and, in what follows, I will attempt to explain what I mean. However, first of all; a few words addressed specifically to recent subscribers: Even if I do not thank you all individually – or follow all your blogs – I am extremely grateful to all those who choose to follow this blog (i.e. newcomers arrive almost daily). It has occurred to me that, to some long-standing followers, this blog may at times be repetitive; whereas to others it may seem that I often assume the reader understands the whole backstory (i.e. has read everything I have ever written). If you identify with either statement, then I can only apologise. However, because my last two posts seem to demand it, I am going to risk repeating myself, or rather, repeating the words of the late Petra Kelly, the inspirational young leader of the Green Party in Germany in the 1980s:
Greens are neither left nor right; they are out in front!
Last September, I posted (in 3 parts) one of the many 5000-word essays (i.e. written assignments) that I had to do for my MA in Environmental Politics, which addressed the question: “Can modernisation ever be ecological?” Although a play on words (i.e. within the sphere of environmental politics ‘Ecological Modernisation’ is a concept similar to sustainable development), the essay essentially addresses the question as to whether environmental degradation can and will ever be decoupled from economic development.
That essay was written, at the very end of 2010, from an institutional perspective (i.e. what would we have to do to achieve the laudable aim and how might go about it). However, a few months later, I had to write another essay, this time from a purely philosophical perspective, which addressed the question implied by Petra Kelly’s statement, namely: “Can, should, and/or does environmental politics transcend the left versus right political divide?” I was tempted to post this essay in 3 parts as well but, so as not to frustrate established readers, have decided not to. However, I suspect that, somewhere or other, I will have said it all before. Nevertheless, for the benefit of those who definitely haven’t “heard it all before”, you may wish to take a look at any of the following (if you have not already done so):
The ecological challenge for conservatism (13 October 2011) (followed by posts on liberalism and socialism).
Green politics in a nutshell (21 January 2012)
Green philosophy in a nutloaf (23 January 2012)
Living on the edge of an environmental breakdown (24 January 2012)
Apart from that, I would just like to repeat a few of the key things I feel I learned from doing the research for both the essays referred to above. I believe these go to the heart of our modern dilemma; and point the way to how we may yet resolve it:
Three kinds of value (Neil Carter in The Politics of the Environment )
– Instrumental value: That which something has for someone as a means to an end (e.g. money [also known as utility or exchange value]).
– Inherent value: That which something has because it is considered desirable (e.g. precious metals such as silver, gold and platinum).
– Intrinsic value: That which something has because of what it is – typically essential for the existence of life (e.g. sunlight, clean air, and clean water).
A green theory of value (Robert Goodin in Green Political Theory )
– Capitalists are focussed upon the inherent value of things they consume.
– Marxists are focussed on the instrumental value of the things they produce.
– Greens should be focussed on the value of nature itself – whether inherent or intrinsic.
Goodin, however, chose not to pursue this (as does Carter) to suggest that the intrinsic value of nature is not contingent on our being here to value it!
Five ways to value nature (Robyn Eckersley in Environmentalism and Political Theory )
Eckersley proposed that our attitude to nature must lie somewhere on a spectrum between strongly anthropocentric to strongly ecocentric, and suggested 5 main possibilities:
1. Resource conservation – the wise use of natural resources for human benefit: Eckersley suggests that the conservation movement was founded upon the Judeao-Christian notion of humans having “dominion” over the Earth; rather than any duty of “stewardship” towards it, as exemplified by Gifford Pinchot (the first chief of the US Forest Service).
2. Human welfare ecology – an appeal to enlightened self-interest: Eckersley cites Barry Commoner’s “four laws of ecology” as (1) everything is connected to everything else; (2) everything must go somewhere; (3) nature knows best; and (4) there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
3. Preservationism – seeking the aesthetic preservation of wilderness areas: Whereas Gifford Pinchot wanted to preserve nature for development (i.e. maximise the utility of natural resources for human benefit), John Muir (of the Sierra Club) wanted to preserve nature from development (i.e. minimise the human impact on the natural environment).
4. Animal liberationism – the prevention of cruelty to certain animals: A comparatively modern, radical, development; which can trace its heritage back to “humane” societies formed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPCA).
5. Ecocentrism – seeking the preservation of nature for its own sake (also known as Biocentric Egalitarianism, Ecologism, or Deep Ecology).
Nothing in life is simple (Martin Lack in Lack of Environment …!)
When I was at University I was very tempted to set up a Vegetable Rights Society. I was therefore not surprised to find out nearly 25 years later that even people like the late Arne Naess conceded that, since food is an essential requirement for life, an entirely egalitarian attitude towards nature is untenable… As Neil Carter has more recently put it:
“Certainly, any principle along the lines of biocentric egalitarianism would be impossible to implement. Taking it to the extreme, how could a human justify killing any animal of fish, or consuming a vegetable, bean or berry? All involve some restraint on another entity’s capacity to live and flourish.”
As nice as it would be for there to be a simple answer to all this stuff, there isn’t. In all of the above, I have not even mentioned humanity’s Optimism Bias (i.e. a tendency to remain optimistic when presented with evidence that it is unwarranted); and I have not mentioned the two alternative sources for that “faith in the future”, namely nature’s bounty (i.e. Cornucopianism) and human ingenuity (i.e. Prometheanism – a.k.a. “technological optimism”). But, either way, the basic problem is that, despite all the good things it gave rise to, the fallacy of the Age of Enlightenment was to think that humanity is superior to – and detached from – nature; whereas in reality we are not superior to nature – we are part of it. We cannot impact nature without impacting ourselves. If we do not protect our environment; we will ultimately destroy it and, in so doing, we will destroy ourselves. This is what the history of past human civilisations tells us.
More relevant posts you may like to read (if you have not done so before):
All things are connected… (12 January 2012)
All things are still connected (17 January 2012)
Collapse or ecocide – which will it be (14 February 2012)
Jared Diamond’s warning from history (15 February 2012).
Where is a Messiah when you really need one?
The USA may not be the World’s sole super power – or at least not to the extent it once was – but we nevertheless need it to be on board and pulling in the right direction. Unfortunately, even with Barrack Obama in the White House these last four years, this is quite clearly not what the USA has been doing.
With regard to climate change, a ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ outcome is almost guaranteed because, as Garrett Hardin once incisively observed, “Ruin is the destination to which all men rush, each pursuing his own interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons”. However, I do not think that this is reason alone to give up on trying to avoid it.
All around us today, we can see emerging signs of the reality of Limits to Growth phenomena: We were warned about this over 40 years ago but, almost since such warnings were first uttered, they have been variously dismissed as anti-progress, anti-Western or anti-human. Unfortunately, history has proven them to be only one thing; and that is anti-sceptic.
Whether it be the abstraction of groundwater or the fishing of our oceans; and/or the pollution of our groundwater, rivers, oceans or atmosphere; things that once seemed to be OK are now a problem simply because of the scale and/or rate at which they are being undertaken: Anthropogenic Climate Disruption (ACD) is not just a physically-inevitable consequence of the Laws of Physics (belief in which is not optional), nor just the consequence of physics we have understood well for over 150 years and observed for at least 50 years. ACD is the most obvious evidence of the reality of Limits to Growth that we will ever have.
ACD has become our greatest problem simply because of our refusal to acknowledge its reality; and because we seem incapable of preventing perpetual growth in the rate at which we allow it to impact the Planet: It did not matter a great deal when there were only 1 billion humans chopping down trees to make charcoal. However, when there are at over 7 billion humans chopping down trees and burning them to clear forests to feed people whose existence seems predicated on the burning of fossil fuels, this is a very big deal indeed.
Scale of operation and rate of pollution is everything; and we are currently doing these things at faster rates than those with which the biosphere can clearly cope: In other words, Homo sapiens has now exceeding the Earth’s ecological carrying capacity for it as a species. Either we must modify our behaviour or nature will modify it for us (or us for it?).
There is no Messiah waiting to save us. We must save ourselves (or Nature is likely to deploy some very unpleasant pest control measures against us). If we are to do this, we need everyone to be on board and playing by the same rules. In this respect, the USA is not the only “problem-child in the nursery”; problematic States are almost ubiquitous: Afghanistan, Brazil, Canada… [some time later]… Venezuela, USA, Western Sahara, Xanadu(?), (the former) Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia, and Zimbabwe…
Whoever we are and wherever we are, there are a number of things we cannot afford to do any longer: These include (1) blame the problem on someone else; (2) wait for someone else to take action first; (3) and/or complain that unilateral action is futile… If we wish to avoid overshoot, collapse and/or ecocide, it is now time for aggressive, brave, collective, and decisive action by any and all who understand the nature, scale and urgency of the need to act. Given the additional evidence of the reality of the existential threat we face literally pouring in every day, we can and must hope that the more recalcitrant elements of our species will soon either admit their error and/or be shamed into joining the Anthropocene fight for survival in which we are now engaged.
Welcome to Belshazzar’s Feast: I am afraid your place was reserved for you many years ago. Although attendance is mandatory, over-indulgence should definitely be considered optional.
A few weeks ago, I quoted the words of Chief Seattle, and the words of the Cree prophecy convey similar sentiment regarding the folly of what Arthur Mol once described as “a structural design fault in modernity” that brings about “the institutionalised destruction of nature”…
When all the trees have been cut down,
when all the animals have been hunted,
when all the waters are polluted,
when all the air is unsafe to breathe,
only then will you discover you cannot eat money.
For more of this, visit: http://www.unahi.org/quotes/native-american-quotes.htm.
Yesterday, I attempted to summarise Jared Diamond’s 500-page book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005). However, having done that, I decided that his own summary of his conclusions warranted specific attention. This is because, despite being very widely acclaimed at the time of its publication, very few of our politicians seem to have taken on board the warning to humanity that I think the book represents: The people with the real power to affect change are still living in denial of the reality and urgency of the problems we face. This situation will not change unless we all demand that it does.
Therefore, in the hope that it will encourage all to take control of their own destiny – to take advantage of living in a democratic country where individuals have the right to lobby their representatives and/or actively participate in that democratic process – I reproduce here a transcript of the final page of the Introduction to Diamond’s book (any added emphasis being mine only):
This book’s concluding section (Part Four) extracts practical lessons for us today. Chapter 14 asks the perplexing question arising from every past society that ended up destroying itself, and that will perplex future earthlings if we too end up destroying ourselves: How could a society fail to have seen the dangers that seem so clear to us in retrospect? Can we say that their end was the inhabitants’ own fault, or that they were instead tragic victims of insoluble problems? How much past environmental damage was unintentional and imperceptible, and how much was perversely wrought by people acting in full awareness of the consequences? For instance, what were the Easter Islanders saying as they cut down the last tree on their island? It turns out that group decision-making can be undone by a whole series of factors, beginning with the failure to anticipate or perceive a problem, and proceeding through conflicts of interest that lead some members of the group to pursue goals good for themselves but bad for the rest of the group.
Chapter 15 considers the role of modern businesses; some of which are among the most environmentally-destructive forces today, while others provide some of the most effective environmental protection. We shall examine why some (but only some) businesses find it in their interests to be protective, and what changes would be necessary before other businesses would find it in their interests to emulate them.
Finally, Chapter 16 summarizes the types of environmental dangers facing the modern world, the commonest objections raised against claims of their seriousness, and the differences between environmental dangers today and those faced by past societies. A major difference has to do with globalization, which lies at the heart of the strongest reasons for both pessimism and or optimism about our ability to solve our current environmental problems. Globalization makes it impossible for modern societies to collapse in isolation, as did Easter Island and the Greenland Norse in the past. Any society in turmoil today, no matter how remote – think of Somalia and Afghanistan as examples – can cause trouble for prosperous societies on other continents, and is also subject to their influence (whether helpful or destabilizing). For the first time in history, we face the risk of a global decline. But we are also the first to enjoy the opportunity of learning quickly from developments in societies anywhere else in the world today and from what unfolded in societies at any time in the past. That’s why I wrote this book.
Yet again, quoting George Santayana seems appropriate:
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.
Truly, we have been warned…