Friday, March 15, 2019
School Climate Strikes Come to the US
Yesterday, local high school students helped load my truck with horse
manure from the Appalachian Therapeutic Riding Center for use in our
community garden in Celo Community (six families). Banter among the
boys, showing off for the lone girl present, was broadly horsey. One
boy sported a full Confederate flag as his shirt. Another boy wanted
to know what I thought about chewing tobacco. I said it was bad, and
the girl agreed. Then someone inevitably brought up politics. The
boy who likes to chew said, "I like Trump because he's going to
bring the Bible into the schools." I wanted my truck filled
with manure, so I didn't take the bait.
A climate strike action
is called for noon today in Washington. I know teachers
at Mountain Heritage, and ever since Greta Thunberg
school climate strikes, I have written those teachers to be aware of
the movement, and to support their students when the time came. That
time has not come to Yancey County, NC, which remains Bible Belt,
despite inroads by the liberal, citified retirees who are steadily
moving in. Knowing that, none of these teachers has responded,
though I'm sure we could talk off the record, given the chance.
This is a youth
movement. I'm a Boomer, a worn-down climate warrior who resigned a
tenured position to fight the climate wars almost twenty years ago.
In that time, carbon emissions have increased hugely, with no
legislation having been passed limiting/taxing them, even though many
businesses are poised to change their strategy, given the right
political leadership. But straight-talking Greta will have none of
either. According to her, politicians have done virtually nothing,
and are not be trusted. Companies will change, but only if they can
continue to make money, which is more important to business interests
than the survival of their children and grandchildren, let alone the
flourishing of the non-human world.
It may be too late,
but the youth of the world - in Sweden, the UK, parts of Europe, and
Australia - have awakened to their dire plight. Seeing that
education for "good jobs" or being an "informed
citizens" is useless in the face of failed ecosystems,
economies, and civil institutions, they are taking to the streets.
Today is the first big strike date in the US, with a big action
scheduled in DC, contemporaneous with gatherings of mostly high
school aged youth in many cities, including nearby Asheville. We
Boomers, along with a life-web on heightened alert, are acutely
interested in how this one goes. And the next, and the next, growing
in strength until what business and government do will be moot.
That is Greta's vision, and I pray she is right. Even if it's too
late, to have a display of love for humanity and the Earth which
cradles us, a display of dignity and idealism in the face of
widespread sordid politics, would feel like vindication of "God's"
creation of a creature who might mirror "Him." Adjusted,
to be sure, for immense grief and irony.
One and a half million schoolkids worldwide left school for some "home schooling," street-learning style on Friday. This was the biggest climate action thusfar. Greta has her own analysis of the action and what it will take to make a difference: "we need a whole new way of thinking
." She emphasizes that we will not be able to solve the climate crisis by working within a capitalist system as currently defined (sorry, Al Gore). She has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Labels: Appalachian Therapeutic Riding Center, climate strike, Greta Thunberg
Wednesday, January 23, 2019
The Great Vanishing
I am not a Jain. When we arrived earlier this month in Spanish Fort Alabama, near Mobile, I noticed the gooey remains of a few bugs on my windshield. This actually gave me a modest thrill. If you are old enough to remember the moth snowstorm
, you’ll understand why.
It was the first time I have seen some bug remains on the car
windshield in years, and it was in the same bug-rich area I first
noticed them, when my family drove to the beach at Gulf Shores in the
Fifties, with nothing but sand dunes, sea oats, ocean and the narrow
2-lane state highway east of Mobile Bay. I distinctly remember
watching the endless sand dunes, usually being the only car, and how
long it seemed to take (about 50 miles from my house on Georgia
Avenue). Inspecting the clotted windshield, I noted that mosquitoes’
blood was red and moth guts were yellow. When we drove home, the
windshield was plastered with bug remains. And yes, I remember night
driving in a moth snowstorm, many times.
We need to be more
like Jains, who take the greatest care not to kill anything, the
vegan orthodox eating only dropped fruit and wilted greens, refusing
to drive because of the insect snowstorm, and wearing masks to
prevent accidentally inhaling tiny creatures. A friend recently
wrote, explaining that he and his partner carefully removed spiders
and wasps from their house, concerned not to contribute further to
the insect die-off. I have long done the same thing.
The alarm has been
sounded by the Germans, who have done the world’s first extensive
inventory of flying insects, using a network of amateurs similar to
Audobon bird counts in the US. Two years ago German scientists
reported a staggering drop of 76% in these numbers over a 27 year
period, calling it “biological Armageddon.” At El Yunque
National Forest in Puerto Rico, the number of arthopods dropped 98% -
before Hurricane Maria.
This has led to a plunge in insectivore numbers, with some species
disappearing from the forest. This
data, and the numerical
follows, I am reporting
from a powerful article recently published in the online journal
TomDispatch by Subhankar Banerjee,
“BiologicalAnnihilation: a Planet in Loss Mode.”
It’s not only the polar
bear, tiger, leopard,
elephant, rhino, and large sea vertebrates like manatees, dolphin,
and whales that are at risk. The
World Wildlife Fund reports a 60% decline
in global vertebrate population from
1970-2014. Some biomes have suffered more than others. Worldwide,
83% of freshwater vertebrates have died. We have heard for quite some
time about the die-off in amphibians, especially frogs, but I suspect
this is true of many salamanders as well, since they are much less
plentiful here in Southern Appalachia – one of the areas in which
they have thrived - than they were when I moved here in the
Seventies. Vertebrates only make up 3% of the kingdom Animalia, but
we and much that we love are part of that family.
Three and half billion
birds die annually from crashing into glass or being killed by feral
cats in North America alone. With climate change, the timing of the
arrival of birds in spring with the appropriate diet is off. With
the passing of the moth snowstorm, species like the chickadee, whose
young need large numbers of moth larvae, are in rapid decline.
Softwoods in the Western US and the boreal forest of Canada are dying
rapidly, hundreds of
millions of them. Weakened
by stress from severe droughts and rapid warming, they succumb much
more readily to pest like the exploding bark beetel population. In
New Mexico, 90% of mature
have died in the last four years. This, too, removes food and
nesting places for
life. Ocean life is
dying. Since the ocean is our largest carbon sink, and first line of
defense against rising CO2, it is acidifying (carbonic acid), making
it increasingly difficult for shellfish to make their lime-based
shells. Coral reefs are being bleached increasingly from warming
oceans, and suffering rapid decline. Starfish
on the West Coast are
dying from a virus, with ocean warming rendering them more
vulnerable. In some areas, 99% of them have died. Sharks,
virtually all the top
predators, are in rapid decline.
Whales are barely holding
their own, the blue whale
populatoin in particular being held in check by ship strikes.
on land, it’s not just the large creatures who are at grave risk.
The phytoplankton, chief
source of the oxygen we and other animals breathe, are suffering.
Two species in the North Pacific are now reported extinct.
of this is connected.
And it is connected to us. The
causes of these population collapses are complex and overlapping, but
they include over-exploitation of species, agricultural practices,
and habitat loss, “all driven by runaway human consumption”
(Banerjee), with climate change an exacerbating driver.
data is devastating. But unless we
live these facts,
as scientists, naturalists, sportsmen, hikers, and wilderness
explorers do, it’s just a mental worry. It passes, and we remain
within the redoubt of our human infrastructure, which has made a
dwindling, diminished and suffering parkland of the natural world.
So much of what we cherish
still holds together, as we enjoy the fruits of civilization built up
since the beginning of the Holocene: the symphony, theater,
the array of sports
events, plenteous food, general
civic order, at
least in the rich world. But we are teetering on the edge of
disaster. The world we inhabit is hollowed out, our sureties
misplaced, because we pretend the
world of human artifacts,
the built world, is bedrock reality. The truth is that the
cascading effects of insectageddon and of biological annihilation
will reach us, sooner rather than later. Though we have subjected
the natural world to enclosure, the walls around the zoo are subject
to natural law. We are not outside the system, but thoroughly
embedded within it.
give Banerjee the last word: “To mitigate the crisis, to save life
itself, would require not merely the replacement of carbon-dirty
fossil fuels with renewable forms of energy, but a genuine
of modern life and its institutions.”
Friday, December 14, 2018
“We cannot fail in Katowice.” So Secretary General Guterres warned in Poland last week at the outset of the COP 24 conference of parties to the UNFCCC convention, which began in 1992. Nine years ago, at the pivotal COP 15 in Copenhagen, I was among those who saw a glimmer of hope.
But the politicians, those who manage the form the awakening must take for humanity to unite to prevent climate catastrophe, have provided scant leadership over these 25 years, during which CO2 emissions have increased 65%.
It’s that time of year again, when Advent coincides with the COP. The challenge in Katowice, which is to outline a firm mechanism for achieving the carbon reduction goals pledged by 197 nations in Paris in 2015, is inconvenient for the nations of the world. They would rather deal with slightly less intractable issues. And it is inconvenient to Christians who don’t yet understand that, unless we have a viable species, we can’t worship the coming of the Christ-child.
I recently had an online debate with a colleague who claimed that “Politics is the major determinant of our lives.” I disagreed, pointing to instances where individuals overcame the external determinants of politics through inner spiritual development. But if we do not have a form to ensoul in, my point is moot. So, building upon his point, I will amend it to “Climate politics is the major determinant for the survival of our species.” Some people, their numbers probably accelerating as we approach the Event Horizon (not a Christianized Saturnalia, but the Incarnation as we never imagined it), will achieve enlightenment/moksha. But the billions who will require bodies in which to reincarnate to complete their spiritual perfection will be out of options – at least in the universe as we know it.
When I carried hope for the UN-led process, Barack Obama was president. He went personally to COP15, where he brokered the outlines of an agreement with the president of China, then our biggest opponent in the process of drawing up an international treaty to fight climate disruption. At COP 24, China is the leader of the forces attempting to drive a wedge against the Climate Beast, while the US is working with Russia and the Saudis to weaken the framework set in Paris. At COP 24, with Donald Trump having served notice that the US will withdraw form the Paris Accord as soon as contractually possible, the US has been further reduced from irrelevancy to laughing stock. Our executive, executor of the international goodwill towards the US that has been built since WWII, seized the COP24 stage to sell US coal, his agents improbably arguing that the right mix of fossils would help in the climate war. This may have delighted his base in the US, but the assembled company in Katowice literally laughed at the presentation. Sadly, extinction is no joke.
“Our world leaders have been behaving like children.” This is the judgment of my latest climate hero
, Greta Thunberg, the Swedish 15-year-old who has been on strike from school in an effort to get political leaders to awaken from their moral torpor. Greta speaks from Stockholm every Friday. At first, she stood outside Parliament, where the cameras delivered a clear message. Now Parliament has forced her to move over the bridge, but those who are initiated into her courage don’t need the government trappings to get her point. In Katowice, where she has been featured in several venues, including an address to the hall of delegates, Greta has made it clear that “we” - the youth who are present in force at the conference, “are not here to beg world leaders to act,” but to serve notice that, since those leaders have consistently failed us, the people, led by those in their teens and twenties, will get the job done themselves.
In the UK, where Theresa May has withdrawn the Brexit deal for lack of votes, and public unrest like that tearing France apart is waiting in the wing, the other wing is soaring. The Extinction Rebellion
, which means exactly what it says, was able to stop traffic in London, simultaneously occupying five bridges. Then with a sit-in of over one thousand, they blocked access to Parliament,. In just a matter of weeks, they have over 100,000 members world-wide. I am one of them.
Back in the US, the youthful Sunrise Movement
blocked access to Nancy Pelosi’s office two weeks ago to demand that she lead a Green New Deal package as her top priority for the new Congress in January. A colleague drives his high school daughter to the actions, and reports an impressive degree of political sophistication and passion among the youthful protesters.
Greta Thunberg has called for a global climate strike by students today, December 14. There are already large-scale school strikes in Australia
, with Canada also gaining energy and numbers. I sense that this is just the beginning, and my readers can help drive the momentum. Stand with Greta on Fridays at government offices, schools, and other public places. Write letters to the editor. More importantly, recored your own strike event and share it widely. This is what an extinction rebellion looks like.
Labels: Advent, COP24, Copenhagen COP 15, Event Horizon, Extinction Rebellion, global climate strike, Greta Thunberg, Paris Accord, Sunrise Movement, UNFCCC
Friday, November 02, 2018
Is It Even Possible to Be Green in Modern Techno-Industrial Society?
So the alienation
and division of labor led to a moral anaesthesia in the youthful
industrial revolution. That anaesthesia has grown, with the best
modern commentary coming from Jacqus Ellul and his critique of "technique,”
through which unbridled efficiency comes to rule all
business operations and eventually social relations as well. The
same dynamic which made pacifism difficult for Birmingham Friends
holds true for the modern dilemma, likely our final one, of climate
disruption, caused by unleashing stored carbon through the
increasingly efficient modes of production of the industrial
revolution, which was already firmly established by Samuel Galton’s
time. We no longer have control of the process, and though we can
influence the rate of carbon release to some degree, the
thoroughgoing imbeddedness of human lives in the “infernal” - see
William Blake, my favorite Christian prophet next to Jesus –
techno-industrial machine has probably doomed the effort. At this point, the
atmosphere and oceans already hold too much carbon, and we need to
create vast new carbon sinks. Unfortunately, this requires a scale
that only an industrial state can manage, with Faustian efficiency.
Case in point. I
have a friend who turned in his driver’s license several years
back. He lived in an owner-built yurt, grew a large garden, kept
chickens and ducks, hunted and fished. As his daughter grew older, he
watched as his wife chauffeured that daughter to all her pre-teen
activities, feeling a heavy burden of guilt towards his family. He
was a passionate ecologist, but this just wasn’t fair. So he got
his driver’s license back, and drawn by the energy of commerce and
the power of mechanical engagement, bought a big new truck (the first
new vehicle of his life) and acquired a business, which he and his
wife have grown (an ecological one, fixing motherboards for
commercial dryers), doubling its workforce. They now travel around
the world, and their business is booming. I recently asked
him if he still had a garden, and he answered that he didn’t have
time. Same for the poultry. He does still hunt deer, which he can
watch in the broad expanse behind the cabin he bought and remodeled.
He does not use the high-tech gadgets that many local hunters have
My point is that,
whereas my friend previously tried to live as simple and
self-sufficient life as possible, he now has a busy, complex life,
with a huge balance sheet of eco-sins and eco-virtues. Nothing is
simple for him or his family anymore. I’ve known others who have tried to live simpler lives, subsisting in teepees,
putting up food. But in every case, life’s necessities have led
them into something more comfortable and economically sustainable.
When we moved back to the NC mountains at the millennium, we managed
with one car. I organized carpools, and more often borrowed friends’
cars (the chief person, who had the most cars in the family fleet,
called me on this inconsistency after several months). We recently
acquired a second Prius, so that, with Geeta commuting for work 8
days a month, I wouldn’t need to drive the farm truck (acquired
from the friend who surrendered his license; we live a in a small
world out here) to Asheville to visit family and go to choral
rehearsals on at least a weekly basis. That makes three vehicles.
Funny, but when I asked the motherboard man several years ago if he
would join me in creating a local transportation network for us rural
mountain folk, he scoffed, saying that Asheville (48 miles distant)
was not “local.”
The big push among
enviros is to create a 100% renewable energy system. Among
progressive architects, it’s to create zero-emissions buildings.
Green farmers aim for even more, which is to grow carbon-negative
crops, with the most exciting possibilities coming from
agro-forestry. Just recently, the Asheville City Council joined many
larger cities in voting to make city buildings and functions 100%
renewable by 2030. Trouble is, the city controls but a tiny fraction
of Asheville real estate. And there’s no farmland in WNC available
for young folks who want to change modes of production.
are yet another industrial mode, with gains in efficiency of
producing energy, still bearing industrial-level costs. The rare
earth metals required in wind turbines and solar panels come almost
exclusively from China, where activities associated with their
mining and transport have devastated entire traditional farming
communities and endangered their water supply. All of the plans that
will save us from burning all the stored carbon and methane in the
earth’s crust are simply redirections of the Elephant which is our
techno-industrial say of life. To be embraced, they must be as
unnoticeable and painless as possible. The not-so-hidden premise of
all these proposals is to preserve the system. Preserving the Earth,
and her “ecosystem services” without which global capitalism
could not exist, remains mostly at a cognitive level. If we felt
this in our entrails, then we would join Ned Ludd and his crowd
and throw off our industrial, statist chains.
Carbon costs are not
simply convertible to dollars through a tax, no matter how carefully
structured (a fair tax would cost many times what is being proposed,
with a racheting up that would never be achieved before Doomsday, at
even the most rapid rates of proposed increase). Our economic
activity should be measured in carbon dioxide expenditures, the
dollars be damned! But this kind of thinking is limited to a few
rogue economists, anarchists, and idealists
, who have not made much
headway during the Climate Emergency.
I recently read a
review of William Vollman’s Carbon Ideologies
, an extensive
report published in two volumes as fiction, since his publishers
lacked the courage to publish the facts. Among his chillingly
telling points was to point out how catastrophic it will be for India
to raise its standard of living even to the level of Namibia; they
are dead set on becoming like us as quickly as possible, and making
progress. Why shouldn’t the poor want to live with the comforts of
the rich? This is the human dilemma.
In the fall of 2000
I attended a life-altering training with Joanna Macy in leading
despair and empowerment groups. Her husband Fran made periodic
reports to us on the news of the world, as it affected climate
disruption. One morning, he announced that China had just been voted
into the WTO. A poet in the group immediately burst into tears –
an example of the kind of moral imagination we lack so badly. Her
reaction was one of the most memorable moments of a powerful
fortnight. The world has doubled its carbon emissions since that
date, largely due to China’s unprecedented rate of industrial
In such a world, we
need a total restructuring of the economic-political model. Thomas
Berry said in his final book
that we needed a “Re-invention of
the human, at the species level.” Think tanks and fringe socialist
are not going to do that. Nor are California crystal-worshippers.
Social evolution is moving rapidly towards the complete embrace of
technique, in Ellul’s sense. The evolution of consciousness
operates at the personal level, not the group. Biological evolution
takes a long time, but given the immense power evolution on this
planet has shown, with niches rapidly expanding after each large
extinction event, I place hope in Nietzsche’s insight that we are a
bridge species, that must ubergehen
“go over,” “go beyond,” transcend itself, through
traveling the immensely thin archipelago to a future conscious
species, an Overman
characterized by emotional intelligence
and moral imagination, not just overdeveloped frontal lobes
hard-wired to a reptilian brain-stem.
Make love, not
war, said the bonobo to the
on a remote camera, a troupe of baboons once spontaneously
sat down by a deep pool in
the midst of the forest, staying for half an hour, even their young
mostly stilled. Just as suddenly as they had halted, they got up and
went about their foraging business. A
simple life framed in silence, a possibility for highly evolved
primates with a mystical bent embraced – but never fully
realized – by the Society of Friends.
Labels: 100% renewables, Caron Ideologies, Jacques Ellul, Joanna Macy, moral anaesthesia, Ned Ludd, technique, Thomas Berry, Ugly American, William Vollman, WTO, zeri emmissions
Wednesday, October 31, 2018
Pacifist Challenges in Early Industrial Society
Among the many
interesting connections for me at Geeta’s 50th Stanford Reunion
last weekend was the "aha" moment I had during a lecture by the
Stanford historian Priya Satia on “Samuel Galton, Quaker Gunmaker.”
In 1795, Birmingham Meeting admonished Galton and his family for
being gunmakers, after a quietist century of tolerating them. Galton
was a central figure in the meeting, and a member of the Birmingham
Enlightenment. He published a broadside in response, pointing to the
naivete and hypocrisy of his Quaker peers in criticizing him for
taking part in an activity in which all of them were complicit. He
refused to be excommunicated, and continued to sit at his accustomed
bench, coming early to Meeting and greeting his peers. He continued
to give large donations to Birmingham Meeting, and they were
of the process of gunmaking in industrial Birmingham clarified anew
for me the insidious nature of industrial capitalism. Galton’s
foundry made several metal parts for the guns, as well as toys and
sewing tool parts, nails, etc. But craftsmen made the gunstocks and
others assembled the guns. The Quakers, like everyone else in
England, were swept up in the “civilizing” effect of guns, which
were not all that effective and mostly just brandished until they
became more efficient late in the eighteenth century. Highwaymen,
who would formerly cut one’s throat, were seen as “gentlemen”
when they merely accosted travelers at gunpoint. Guns were just one
manifestation of the bristling, burgeoning industrial revolution, and
the many wars of the century were generally experienced as part of
British national civilizing effort. Everything changed with the the
Napoleonic Wars, and it became quickly clear aftter the British
became involved in 1795 that guns were actually being aimed at living
beings with the purpose of killing them, rather than ritualistic
orderly firings in the general direction of the enemy. Murderous
intent with more advanced weaponry made Birmingham Friends wake up to
the truly non-pacifist nature of the tool.
What I realized from
the historian’s careful analysis of the process of gunmaking over
the eighteenth century was that the alienation of labor, as Marx put
it, and its division into many different parts both removed the
satisfaction of crafting one’s work s well as subtly displacing
moral responsibility for one’s productions. This was true both for
producer and consumer. We have inherited a hyper-evolved version of
the early industrial model, with more and more steps and players,
with both the sourcing of materials and the making of finished
products now a worldwide web of material interactions. The process of
making running shoes comes to mind, with a dizzying number of
players all over the planet making a single shoe.
intelligent and experienced factory owner, understood this process,
while his fellow Quakers did not, making it much easier for them to
blame Galton for his part in a process which the government had
deliberately broken into many different components so this key
industry could not be sabotaged by enemies. Even after 225 years, we
still look at the tools of war as if they were separate from the rest of the industrial process, through which humankind is making war on
the Earth (and using trade to periodically make war on others). We
oversimplify, because we want to feel good, washing our hands of
evildoing. But these evils are a multitude thoroughly intertwined
with our entanglement with the capitalist machine.
At the end of the
lecture, Geeta stood up to reaffirm Satia’s point about the
complicity of all members of society in the creation of a nationalist
citizenry entrained within the nascent industrial complex. She quoted John Woolman’s prescient words, “Let us look upon
our treasure, the furniture of our houses, and our garments, and try to discover,
whether the seeds of war are nourished by these our possessions.”
The host for the lecture said to me afterwards that Geeta had
perfectly summed up the lecturer’s point.
Woolman was a moral
genius, seeing the implications of every separate action and pattern
of economic behavior, and addressing those involved: Quaker slavers,
Quaker owners of whaling vessels (Woolman calculated the rate of kill
and said that it would not be too many decades before the whale
population would be endangered), wearers of died clothing, users of
whale oil. The list goes on and on. But Woolman’s life was only a
small degree as embedded in the industrial complex as our own. To
have the same degree of moral perspicuity as he would require us to
be saints, if not avatars of moral insight, which would lead to
lives very difficult to construct without a large local workforce (a
large family, a good sized plot of land, and probably some animals,
even if we had vegan inclinations).
Labels: alienation of labor, industrial revolution, John Woolman, pacifism, Priya Satia, Quaker gunmaker, samuel galton, slavery, whaling
Thursday, September 13, 2018
The Great Filter...and Beyond
must confess to feeling like I’ve been traversing a morass, the
which I fell in the last
post. The whole point of “Losing Earth” and its critics is to
assign blame for our apparent failure to steward the Earth and to
steward a future for our offspring. I found myself agreeing in some
ways with both sides, thus the tarbaby.
what if there is no blame at the level of either individual choice or
social system/policy? There may well be something at the species
level that dooms us to prefer maximizing present advantages to
planning for a longterm future we can neither
imagine. This is the position of Craig Dilworth, and I have yet
to read a a cogent counterargument to his Too
Smart for Our Own Good.
Another line of thinking derives
from Fermi’s Paradox, the apparent contradiction between the high
probability for the existence of extraterrestrial
and the lack of evidence for them. As Fermi said, “Where is
everybody?” Robin Hanson and Glen Brin have responded with the
idea that the Great Silence with which we are greeted from apparently
dead space is caused by the “Great Filter”: it is in the nature
of advanced civilizations to destroy themselves before they get to
the point of colonizing other suitable planets. This occurs either
by (something like) nuclear
war, ecological collapse, or simply because complex civilizations fall victim to their own complexity.
One writer noted that the success of complex civilizations means
that they grow until they outstrip their energy resources, and in the
process doom themselves to death by carbon.
Advanced industrial civilizations
extract so much from their planetary base that they eventually
destroy their very conditions for life. If life on other planets –
and the odds are huge that it is commonplace in the universe – does
not reach the level of interplanetary communication or travel, then
it is either because it never reached the level of complexity of our
or it was able to restrain itself before it reached the Great Filter.
Many Hindu sages
point to the legend about
off rocketry, because ancestral
sages foresaw the inevitable
results. This may not be
true, but respect for wisdom, rather than power, would certainly rein
in the potential for a civilization to project itself far into
interstellar space. But look
at India now, trying to be like the US as fast as possible, and using
more coal per energy unit than any other nation on Earth.
In the case of the lost
decade in the Climate Wars,
it is not neoliberalism per
se that was
the culprit. The
structure was going to
this flaw in hyperadvanced higher life forms.
I am a deeply spiritual person, and
I agree that the spiritual maturation of the species would mean that
anthropogenic climate change would never have become our endgame.
Nobody wants to give up on
the prospect of breaking
through to the level of species wisdom for which I referenced Joanna
Macy’s comments in my last post. As Thomas Berry wrote in The
Great Work, we need “to
reinvent the human at the species level.”
Gary Snyder was
asked about when he thought
humans would reach that level, he answered with a chuckle, “ten
the meantime, what do we do now? E.O. Wilson keeps emphasizing
conserving hotspots (his latest, perhaps bravest book is Half
Earth, arguing for putting half of the Earth aside for other
species). We will not be able to preserve coastal cities,
grainbelts, and fisheries. Conserving genetically diverse hot spots
will help prime the evolutionary pump for the next efflorescence, the
rapid speciation which will follow, when the time is ripe, the
current Sixth Extinction.
if it is too late to save civilization, which has not been so kind to
the Earth community, even if we have broken our covenant with the
Unnameable, those of us who are faithful need to avoid cynicism and
despair. (Not easy, my friends!) We need to live and work as if
we were in covenant relationship with God. We need to
work to restore the covenant, recognizing that this will not bear
fruit in this incarnation of higher life. The end is near, and the
future will unfold, but living in affirmation of that future,
preserving what we can of gene pools and best practices, even as the
culture for those practices heads into its death spiral, is the task.
This is the huge role of spiritual leaders, conservationists,
traditional culture bearers, teachers, and honest, caring writers and
It is unutterably sad to observe
that the desperately needed transformation of humans simply has not
happened quickly enough to avert climate catastrophe. I mourn the end
of the holocene period and
the splendid, diverse
array of life the
has been our home, the cenozoic. But the basis for
true hope lies in the regenerative potential of evolution on Earth.
In the end, we must not read
Biblical hope locally in terms of life in the holocene, or even in
terms of Earth. history
The Creator is not simply a middle eastern sky god hanging out in an
Islamic Paradise Garden trying to manage his wayward children. “He”
is the Unnameable,
creator and lord of worlds upon worlds, with no limits. Not
only does She (It)
like your grandfather; God
isn’t even a noun, which is form of hypostasy and idolatry.
Godding (GK Chesterton)
is the process by which the indwelling Source manifests itself
have many conversations these days with folks where we agree that
those of us alive today will neither save nor lose the Earth, for she
will endure. The biggest fault in the Nathaniel Rich piece is in the
false title, chosen for dramatic effect, “Losing Earth.”
Balderdash. As I have posted here before, there are one to two
billion years of evolutionary history ahead of us on this sweet spot
in the Universe. And now astronomers and astrophysicists are
realizing another insight of the ancient Hindus, that the universe is
not a one-time event. It is not a Big Bang as much as a Big Bounce.
The cosmological theory that has reigned during my lifetime is fast
being replaced by one that fits the facts better. The universe
appears, ends, and reappears. It is regenerative. That is another
story, one which both reinforces a sense of covenant stewardship
towards the Deep Future and helps us forgive ourselves for failing
this time around.
Labels: Big Bounce, covenant, Craig Dilworth, EO Wilson, Great Filter, Hindu rocketry, hot spots, Joanna Macy, Robin Hanson, Thomas Berry
Friday, August 31, 2018
The Covenant is Broken: What Now?
Over the past year, the self-censorship of climate scientists has begun to thaw, and the timid predictions of the IPCC are being questioned ever more robustly. Academics from allied fields peering into the abyss are no longer fearful of losing their careers, and elder scientists no longer fear losing their grants. Catastrophic climate change either has already begun (see accompanying firemap), as some researchers argue, or it will be upon us in a matter of scant years
. The popular article announcing this sea-change is the recent NYT Magazine piece, “Losing Earth.”
In this richly researched piece, focusing on a few key figures (James Hansen and Rafe Pomerance are the good guys; John Sununu their chief nemesis), Nathaniel Rich argues that “we” had a chance during the pivotal decade for climate science and public policy (1979-89), but blew it. He sums his argument with this: “Human beings, whether in global organizations, democracies, industries, political parties, or as individuals are incapable of sacrificing present convenience to forestall a penalty imposed on future generations.” It seems we are wired to "obsess over the present, worry about the medium term and cast the longterm out of our minds, as we might spit out a poison.”
Naomi Klein, the brilliant and passionate ecosocialist journalist, replied furiously that it was the neoliberals who “lost the Earth,”
not the royal “we” of Rich’s piece, because the masses are disempowered, even in so-called liberal democracies. Climate research arrived at the moment between two political and economic paradigms, with the remnants of the New Deal, augmented by Rachel Carson, Earth Day and the Nixon Congress, replaced by neoliberalism. Any “deals” on the climate, would have to work within the new framework, viz carbon trading, carbon taxes, and that ugliest of terms, “ecosystem services.” Klein’s analysis - see her full-blown argument in This Changes Everything
- is astute and well-researched, though her solution to the climate dilemma – a global socialist revolution by 2019 – is a progressive’s fantasy.
Though neoliberalism arrived during the Reagan presidency, it continued into the first Bush presidency, Clinton, and the presidents serving since the pivotal 2000 election. The Republican Party remains its primary champion, but it has captured the political elites of all sides and in all countries. I remember the amazement with which I read a short newspaper piece reporting on an Asian economic summit where Bill Clinton called the Market a “force of nature.” Here's an excellent history and critique of neoliberalism
Peter Sawtell, whose Ecojustice Notes
is a welcome weekly invitation to ecospiritual dialogue, also challenges Rich’s assertions about human nature, linking to a rich series of articles from the liberal press. More than one of them points out that, whereas Rich tries to show that some Republicans in Congress were ready to act on climate even before their Democratic colleagues, and that Exxon did early research which corroborated the claims of climate scientists, the Republican Party, above all other political forces on the planet, and the Big Fossil oligarchy, headed by Exxon, have done more damage in the political climate wars than any other players.
So, are Klein and Sawtell et al correct, that it is social, political and economic structures at work here, rather than something called “human nature?” From a broadly Marxist perspective, they are. But I’m afraid that both personal psychology and social behavior are aspects of the all-too-human. Industrial capitalism, which has extended its reach beyond liberal democracies to the state capitalism of China, has magnified the terrifying power of our crafty minds and vastly extended hands. Yes, Naomi, just as the necessary conditions for grappling with the dreadful awakening of the Climate Beast (Tim Flannery) came together, the perfect storm of the neoliberal inflection of economics, industry and politics arrived as well.
In This Changes Everything
, Klein makes the case for a simmering global socialist uprising, which is the only thing that can save us. She is arguing for structural change, and she’s talking non-violent revolution. Precisely. The powers that be, even if they have a vise-grip, remain in power only as long as the masses tolerate them. Change must be born in the hearts and minds of human beings, which are immensely malleable, however noble their capabilities at the highest range. My mentor Joanna Macy has identified the key problem
, which is that the self-reflexive consciousness that humans and a few other big-brained mammals have achieved, has not broken through to the level of social systems. We do have “esprit de corps” in various organizations, though it’s probably declining, and orators can stir mass passions - for good or bad. But the whole social system responding as one to all the feedback necessary for survival has not happened yet. The history of consciousness is full of such breakthroughs at the level of the individual personality, all the way to God-consciousness. Joanna suggests that the current crisis for the survival of higher life on Earth could be what engenders “self-reflexivity on the next holonic level,” that is at the level of social systems. She wrote this twenty years ago.
Rich’s focus on individual personalities satisfies our hunger for and identification with the hero’s quest – and James Hansen, who I have met twice, is one of mine. But this model is inadequate for the terrifying global moment in which we stand. As Larry Rasmussen says, we cannot solve anthropocene problems with holocene tools of imagination and morality. Some of these are part of the problem, especially our enduring tendency to measure everything in terms of its effect on humans alone, rather than the whole Earth community.
A perfect storm stopped effective climate action just as it was crystallizing. It was more than just “human nature” that caused humanity to miss the chance in the 80’s to prevent climate catastrophe. Neoliberalism both 1) undermined the devotion to social welfare of a world order where Keynesian constraints (“embedded liberalism”) reigned in unfettered capitalism and 2) led us more fully into the all-too-human characteristics of procuring as much as we can for ourselves and our tribe. Indeed, the “end of history” now has the ironic ring of the end of global civilization, rather than the triumph of the capitalist West.
However, underneath political and economic theory, anthropologists and primatologists have identified patterns which make escaping the endgame of civilization unlikely, and the exhaustive polymath Craig Dilworth has written a longterm history coming to the conclusion that we are Too Smart for Our Own Good (and too Dumb to Change)
, which I reviewed in this blog. Though it’s not fashionable these days, there is something one could call human nature, rooted in the genetic and behavioral matrix of the primate order. Evolutionary breakthroughs which might refine that nature may be more frequent at moments of great stress, but it’s getting awfully late in the game.
After the Flood, the Unnameable made a rainbow sign in the clouds signaling his covenant “between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come,” to preserve Creation (especially to not send the floodwaters again). Generations have felt comfort from these words in Genesis (12-16). But with the oceans beginning their now inexorable rise, anxiety creeps in among the faithful who pay attention to Creation, and dread certainty among those of who are awake. We have broken our end of the covenant, upon which the theology of stewardship has been built. But this is not the end of the story.
Labels: "Losing Earth", Anthropocene, catastrophic climate change, Exxon, Genesis Covenant, James Hansen, Joanna Macy, Naomi Klein, neoliberalism, Republican Party
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