Some Things Never Change (but should) — Other Things Should Stabilize (but don’t)

Monday, June 29, 2015

After posting the following to Facebook earlier today, I thought it might be interesting to re-visit a blog post I did 8 1/2 years ago regarding population growth.

Here’s what looks like a pretty reasonable take on one of the looming, global collapses. Others would be water shortages, disease, financial and monetary breakdown, human displacement and war over any and all remaining resources. Another possibility is extreme runaway climate change although the timescale for that still looks to be longer with the possible exception of massive release of methane from hydrates and permafrost. Fixing anything less than all of these possibilities will only shift the odds of the order in which they occur.

First, the 2007 post, then an update below:


Friday, February 2, 2007

The 6.5 Billion Horsemen of the Apocalypse

It has taken a very long time for politicians to accept the obvious with respect to climate change. We must remember that, in our democratic system, politicians are elected by all of us to represent us and this is probably the main reason why they will never tackle any problem which requires a solution that creates even a small hardship for the majority of us. They fear, rightly so, that they will fail to be re-elected.

There are several of these unpopular issues which are pushing our world towards the point of not being able to sustain human life. These are ‘Growth’ factors, most of which are paradoxically looked at as increasing our quality and enjoyment of life. Population, economy, consumerism, jobs, wealth, all these have been looked at as being able to grow continuously and without end. Believing this is obviously even more ridiculous than denying the effects of climate change.

During my lifetime, world population has tripled from just over 2 billion to 6.5 billion. During that time, the earth has not become any bigger and, in fact, the basic resources which sustain life, arable land, drinkable water, oxygen producing plants, have all been decreasing. It seems obvious that we have already passed the point of sustainability and that only 2 strategies will help: population reduction, preferably by reducing the birth rate to below the death rate for the foreseeable future, or, reducing the world standard of living to subsistence level while holding the population steady and apportioning the existing resources evenly amongst all people.

Although this may sound like a ‘socialist scheme to suck money out of wealth-producing countries’ [Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper’s description of the Kyoto Protocol], I see it as a last ditch effort to produce a soft landing to the end of the capitalist dominated world order. Those of us fortunate enough to live in the ‘wealth-producing countries’ will probably feel the results of non-action even more that those who are currently at an economic disadvantage.

One of the most likely mechanisms for uncontrolled population reduction would be a massive pandemic and pandemics would be felt much more quickly by the travelers from the developed world than by nomads or villagers. In any case, such massive and uncontrolled depopulation would cause a complete breakdown of order and infrastructure throughout the world so no one would escape the chaos, anarchy and destruction.

Perhaps we should be looking for politicians who are touting ‘population shrinkage’, ‘economic decline’ or ‘wealth redistribution’. Get out on the street now and campaign before governments start to rebuild the mental health institutions they closed to save your money. While they have now found that there is no where to put so many of the homeless and addicted who have mental health problems, there is also no where for them to put you, so you just might be able to get your message out without disappearing. Lots of luck


So, what has changed in 8 1/2 years?

First, the population of Earth is no longer 6.5 billion, it has grown to 7.3 billion, an increase of 800,000,000 which by itself would make a new country ranking 3rd in world population – 2.5 times the size of the USA.

Financial inequality has also grown throughout the world as Free Market Capitalism continues its role of transfering wealth from the poor to the rich, particularly in industrialized nations.

The level of atmospheric carbon dioxide in February 2007 was 381 ppm, it is now 404 ppm. Methane, nitrous oxide and water vapour (due to the warmer atmosphere) have also increased.

Summer Arctic sea ice is set to disappear completely in the near future, land-based ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are melting at rates unprecedented in human history as are mountain glaciers. A little bit of research will show anyone who is interested what these things mean for the future of our “Blue Dot” home.

The world’s oceans are warming, acidifying, rising, containing larger and larger “dead zones” and less and less fish. Corals, phytoplankton, zooplankton, sea grasses, river estuaries and mangroves are under threat everywhere and these are the food sources and protection of most of the ocean’s juvenile fishes. Consequently, oceanic fish populations are being reduced at rates equivalent to or greater than during the previous five great extinction events.

And, what hasn’t changed?

Greed, economic growth, the way we measure success, our outrageous lifestyles, a lack of leadership – these are the things that never seem to change. Add to this a refusal by the richest nations to accept the damage they have caused and continue to cause and an astonishing abandonment by individuals and society of responsibility towards other species as well as future generations of our own.

A Revolutionary New Understanding [about a complete lack of understanding]

Invisible Nature: Healing The Destructive Divide Between People And The Environment —  Kenneth Worthy – Prometheus Books – August 6, 2013


The above book is described as being “A revolutionary new understanding of the precarious modern human-nature relationship and a path to a healthier, more sustainable world.”  The full description as posted by Chapters-Indigo continues:

“Amidst all the wondrous luxuries of the modern world—smartphones, fast intercontinental travel, Internet movies, fully stocked refrigerators—lies an unnerving fact that may be even more disturbing than all the environmental and social costs of our lifestyles. The fragmentations of our modern lives, our disconnections from nature and from the consequences of our actions, make it difficult to follow our own values and ethics, so we can no longer be truly ethical beings. When we buy a computer or a hamburger, our impacts ripple across the globe, and, dissociated from them, we can’t quite respond. Our personal and professional choices result in damages ranging from radioactive landscapes to disappearing rainforests, but we can’t quite see how.

Environmental scholar Kenneth Worthy traces the broken pathways between consumers and clean-room worker illnesses, superfund sites in Silicon Valley, and massively contaminated landscapes in rural Asian villages. His groundbreaking, psychologically based explanation confirms that our disconnections make us more destructive and that we must bear witness to nature and our consequences. Invisible Nature shows the way forward: how we can create more involvement in our own food production, more education about how goods are produced and waste is disposed, more direct and deliberative democracy, and greater contact with the nature that sustains us.”


Assuming that the above is correct, which seems to me to be a perfectly safe and sane assumption, are we all committing an immoral act by continuing to live in our industrialized societies? Of course we are. This may be a major part of the reason that people of good will, let’s just call them “Good People”, are so confused and conflicted about what they can do as individuals to aid the healing processes so urgently required. In a world so complex that we cannot know how to be ethical or moral, how can we be expected to understand the science, or the economics, or the psychology behind what is happening all around us but which we experience only as a fog of life, much like the fog of war experienced by combat soldiers.

I will be embarking upon this revolutionary pathway as soon as our fine, local book store Volume One procures the book for me. Wish me luck.

Suzuki’s Bus Driver

One evening some time ago, I watched an interview of Dr. David Suzuki by George Stroumboulopoulos on CBC television. George started with a very simple, lead-in question (it doesn’t take too much to prime David Suzuki’s pump!) and Suzuki jumped up into the “Big Red Chair”, assumed a position close enough to the classic “Lotus” for me to wince, and started — I can’t claim to a perfect memory of the following but it think it is very close:

People say I always look like I’m pissed off, well I AM pissed off. It’s as if we are all on a bus travelling at a million miles an hour, straight at a precipice. Nobody’s saying “Hit the brakes”, nobody’s saying “Turn the wheels”, we’re all just milling around, trying to find the best seat.

So, who hired the bus driver — we did. That’s what our vaunted democratic process has been twisted into, an instrument to find and appoint a bus driver who will drive us all over a cliff. Even though we are travelling a million miles an hour it seems it is still too far from the edge for us to understand what is being done to us. In any case, we think that before we get there we will have expired, been thrown off the bus and replaced with younger generations. Maybe not, it is looking like the timing is much shorter than we had estimated from computer models .

American novelist James Howard Kunstler called the constellation of crises surrounding global climate change “The Long Emergency” and our human brains have not had enough evolutionary time to react to slow-moving disasters instead of to fast-moving predators suddenly appearing in our field of vision. Consequently, we may be able to see the logic but we are overwhelmed by the complexity we need to deal with to find solutions. We are like a herd of deer-in-the-headlights, trying to determine which way to run when the only bad decision is to stand still and do nothing.

The Long Emergency will play out over generations, but the end result will be the same unless the world’s leaders start taking massive action NOW! By “leaders” I do not mean those we have elected, I mean real leaders who can see what needs to be done and do it.

These will be people whose consciousness functions at a level far above that of Suzuki’s Bus Driver and more like that of the man himself.

The end of Canada as we have known it – but is that a bad thing?

Click here – Chris Hedges on C-51: They have won, and it is up to us – for the article that motivated me to write these comments.

From my perspective, the Nation-State model is well past its best-before-date and needs to be brought to an end. My preference would be an absolute breakdown of the global financial/monetary/economic system as I think that would be the least damaging to the majority of ordinary citizens of most countries.

Less damaging certainly than unrestricted global war over the last of the non-renewable resources and those that, while technically renewable, have been depleted beyond their ability to recover.

Less damaging than monstrous pandemics that blind-side us from unexpected sources, incubate and travel on our vaunted air travel networks to every corner of the Earth before showing their true colours.

Less damaging even than critical food shortages caused by climate change related droughts, land and ocean based species die-offs and the worldwide inability to move goods safely and expediently.

And less damaging than the chaos caused by the massive migration of humanity away from the tropics and former temperate zones towards the poles.

Self-Imposed Extinction is Apparently Preceeded by Mass Insanity

Read this release from the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) regarding the CCW Meeting of Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS) which will take place from 13 to 17 April 2015 at the United Nations in Geneva.

Humankind is facing the very real prospect of extinction from the effects of Anthropogenic Climate Change and what are we doing? — developing weapons systems which can make their own decisions about who to kill and when. Although the potential will exist for these systems to solve the climate change issue (everyone working at fossil fuel company headquarters, politicians around the globe who continue to support fossil fuel use, anyone driving a Hummer and so on) this is not what they are being developed for . . . at least not until someone hacks into the control software.

To great fanfare about “intelligence” and “lithium from Russia” they will be sent off to unfriendly nations (accompanied by a couple of CF18’s to show that Canadian politicos have big balls too) to bomb electronic factories and stop those countries’ WMD-by-LAWS programs; which don’t exist of course.

Picture these drones gleefully raining down death upon hapless Bangladeshi factory workers who are waving banners declaring that they are just developing a more efficient way of delivering pizza.

My question would be: How long can these things continue to Autonomously fuel themselves and continue operations after the last humans have apparently expired? Do they ultimately win or will there be some “Preppers” hiding in culvert pipes buried 40 feet down in the USA (eating KD that is years past its best before date and drinking their own, or possibly each others’ urine) who will emerge after one of the LAWS has imbibed the last gulp of Jet A.

Either way, I wouldn’t wanna survive this one.

Field Notes From THE Catastrophe

I recently began reading “Field Notes From a Catastrophe” – Elizabeth Kolbert, 2006 and was initially happy to have found the ideal first book for those who are new to concerns about THE catastrophe(s) which will shape the future of human life on Planet Earth. To explain the oddity of the expression THE catastrophe(s), THE is capitalized to indicate the only issue that really counts in the present human condition and the appended pluralism highlights that this issue is a tightly interconnected “perfect storm” of crises.

This book is concise – 187ppg for the main body; accurate – with a couple of very minor and inconsequential errors in science (based on other sources); and should be eminently understandable by anyone with the equivalent of a Canadian high school education. Elizabeth Kolbert is a very experienced journalist (New York Times, New Yorker magazine) and obviously takes great pains and knows how do do her research. Her sources are a Who’s Who of legitimate experts on, the Arctic, climate modelling, ancient civilizations, biology, US politics and ocean levels.

The only reasons I am presently depressed by this book is that I have had to relive all the missed opportunities since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the G.W. Bush fiasco of America, the grotesque degradation of Canada by Stephen Harper – not mentioned in the book but ever-present in my thoughts – and the exposure of the depth of greed, ignorance and stupidity of the biological species of which I am a part.

However, of the fifty-some-odd books I have read over the past several years relating to these interconnected crises, I would strongly recommend this one as a place to start a serious exploration of our future under continuance of the business-as-usual model of civilization.

When my generation entered parenthood in the 1960’s, we thought we were bringing children into a world that was improving and would keep doing so as far as we could see into the future. In actuality I can now look back and see that, by the end of that decade, my own Quality of Life had begun to descend. I now look at Standard of Living as measured by GDP – the total amount of money we spend annually as a nation – and Quality of Life as quantified only be a general feeling of well-being, as being in reverse relationship – as the first goes up, the second goes down.

This feeling is corroborated by the increasing incidence of psychological illness, stress, obesity; environmentally forced or lifestyle diseases such as asthma, COPD, novel forms of cancer, diabetes; and zoonotic diseases which take advantage of over-crowding and human movement into previously unoccupied areas.

So – what to do?

First, we can stop reproducing ourselves. Obviously, that won’t happen. However, even to leave our descendants a chance of what we would consider to be a liveable life, we need to achieve large reductions in population. If we don’t, part of the un-liveableness of future human life will be nature’s way of dealing with over-population – pandemic. Perhaps we are currently seeing early, and so far controllable manifestations of this with HIV/AIDS, Ebola and related hemorrhagic fevers; avian, porcine and possibly equine Influenzas; the re-occurrence of mumps and measles and the mysterious polio-like disease affecting children in the US.

In order for the viral world to mount a horror show that would top anything Hollywood has ever produced, a single strain could evolve the following traits — it would be zoonotic (able to pass between species including human like a number of avian influenzas), pass from human to human through aerosols as easily as measles, have a long incubation period and be as deadly as ebola. Currently, virologists are saying that this is not likely to occur but, on the other hand, a bit of reading about past viral evolution seems to indicate that anyone who expresses confidence about what viruses may or may not do next is skating on thin ice. One outbreak of such a virus near a large city and 3 weeks of worldwide air traffic should lead to the normal pattern of those who look after the sick being the second wave and those who look after disposal of bodies being the third and nothing much left but to roll the credits.

Second, we can stop denying the science and the voluminous evidence all around us that massive change is already happening and start demanding that our so-called leaders do something to counter it. Reduction of lifestyle, sustainable energy, the end of economic growth, universal education (especially of girls), localization and raising individual levels of consciousness would all be good places to start. You can start this last one right now with a trip to your public library.

You might point out that the changes outlined above will never be initiated by democratically elected officials and you would be right — so maybe it’s time to take a second look at anarchy (if we do nothing we will get it anyway). Or just to realize that business-as-usual, including nation states and their political and economic systems are “just so 20th century” and get our butts into the 21st. It has already been here for 15 years for those who have been too busy shopping to notice.

The world may be in good hands after all (just not for a couple of generations).

For those of us who understand the crises facing Humanity and our home planet Earth later in the 21st century, getting people to become informed and then demanding that our “Leadership” do the same and start making changes often seems like an un-climbable mountain. We sit ourselves down at the TV every night to watch the Capitalist News – opinions of the corporate elite being spread like propaganda by news media owned by – the corporate elite of course. The resulting “Evening News” bears little resemblance to reality, but presents the fantasy of a future just like the past – only BIGGER and BETTER! And, because we want to believe the fantasy, we do. And because we do, we make no attempt to ameliorate our ways of living to save something for those who come after us.

But there is hope.

Brigette DePape, Tamo Campos and Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois represent the second generation beyond mine – and what great representatives they are! It is true that all three of these heroes have broken the law or very strict rules, and have had to face consequences. To some people, this makes them look like bad people but they are not. In fact, they are some of the best people our country has as citizens and the actions they have taken put the rest of us to shame. When laws are made to favour those who make them at the expense of others, they must be broken; and broken again and again until they are stricken from the codes that govern our society. It takes heroes to do that and that is exactly what these young people are – heroes.

Future

If you don’t know the stories of these brave, young people here is a good place to start your quest in an article from —

While it comforting to celebrate the presence of a younger generation which seems to be taking an interest in looking after their own future, this should in no way let we-who-have-done-the-damage off the hook for reducing our over the top lifestyles and beginning the repairs. Three years of reading have given me a reasonable idea of the on-going damage, probably 40 author’s ideas on what can be done at this point and a sobering view of what cannot be repaired in the foreseeable future regardless of the level of effort.

I hope that I can provide some support for the young heroes mentioned above and all those that have already joined in by opening up some eyes and softening some hearts towards the plight of the generations we will leave behind on our threatened Earth when we depart. I am convinced that, if we can make the massive societal change that is called for, we will find that the loss of thousands of acres of mini-storage and millions of basements, garages and outbuildings full of junk will bring a huge relief of stress and a much higher quality of life to all of us.

Judgement Day (secular style)

One last (for now) excerpt from Endgame by Derrick Jensen. This is the most important of all and that which no one should be able to avoid reading.


 

“To whom will you be called upon to answer? By whom do you wish to be called upon to answer?

With every word I write—expecially when what I write scares me—I think about these questions. And here are the answers I come to every day. I write for the salmon, and for the trees, and for the soil beneath my feet. I write for the bees, frogs, and salamanders. I write for bats and owls. I write for sharks and grizzly bears. When I find myself not wanting to tell the truth as I understand it to be—when I find the truth too scary, too threatening—I think of them, and I think of what I owe them: my life. I will not—cannot—disappoint them.

And I consider myself answerable to—responsible to—the humans who will come after, who will inherit the wreckage our generation is leaving to them. When I want to lie, to turn my face away from the horrors, to understate the magnitude of what we must do and what we must unmake, to give answers that are not as deep and clear and real as I can possibly comprehend and articulate, I picture myself standing before humans a hundred years from now, and I picture myself answering to them for my actions and inactions. Them, too, I will not—cannot—disappoint.”

“Any use of violence implies a failure to love.” — are you sure about this?

Below is a passage from Derrick Jensen’s Endgame Volume 2 in where he takes issue with dogmatic pacifism which he equates with fundamentalism as practiced by zealots of various stripes.

“I have many other problems with the pacifist use of the idea that force is solely the dominion of those in power. It’s certainly true that the master uses the tool of violence, but that does not mean he owns it. Those in power have effectively convinced us they own the land, which is to say they’ve convinced us to give up our inalienable right to access our own landbases. They’ve effectively convinced us they own conflict resolution methods (which they call laws), which is to say they’ve convinced us to give up our inalienable right to resolve our own conflicts (which they call taking the law into your own hands). They’ve convinced us they own water. They’ve convinced us they own the wild (the government could not offer “timber sales” unless we all agreed it owned the trees in the first place). They’re in the process of convincing us they own the air. The state has for millennia been trying to convince us it owns a monopoly on violence, and abusers have been trying to convince us for far longer than that. Pacifists are more then willing to grant them that, and to shout down anyone who disagrees.

Well, I disagree. Violence does not belong exclusively to those at the top of the hierarchy, no matter how much abusers and their allies try to convince us. They have never convinced wild animals, including wild humans, and they will never convince me.”

On Effecting Flexibility of Worldview

An interesting question just occurred as I was having a second cup of coffee and reading Endgame – Derrick Jensen (2006) – “Can a person whose worldview is based on a rigid and un-provable ideology (economic, political, religious, whatever) change that view?”

No.

So why think about it?

Because virtually every human being who wields power has such a worldview.

Is there something that can be done about that?

Maybe, but probably only one or two that are currently legal in most industrialized countries.