It Looks As If My Hopes For A Global Financial Crash Are In Vain

It’s late Monday morning on the west coast (Canada) and markets are recovering after huge, but apparently unsustainable “losses” at opening this morning. Damn, it looked as if there might actually be something positive for me in tonight’s news. I’ll just have to settle for the usual; Canada – lawmakers breaking the law and lying about it under oath, and America – views on the economy by President-In-Waiting Trump . . . another evening of Cookie Jam on Facebook I guess.

Economic Growth, as measured by GDP simply means the amount of money changing hands, normally going from the poor to the rich. Earthquakes, war, highway carnage, increasing death rates from lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, obesity and cardio-vascular disease all cause GDP to rise. To be balanced, so does actual production. Usually I prefer to be un-balanced.

For an economy to grow, something has to shrink and, with the proliferation of free-trade capitalism, the main loser is our home planet. Earth is the only home humans have or ever will have unless you think that a one-way ticket to Mars to live out your life in small pod, recycling your bodily wastes to stay alive qualifies as an alternate home.

Forests turning to desert, water supplies drying up or turning toxic, temperatures and sea levels rising, accelerating species extinction, massive migration of humanity in search of food and water; these and other less obvious tears in the interconnected fabric of life on Earth are directly attributable to growth driven economics. If it doesn’t stop, humans would be just one more species on the list of extinctions if there were anyone left to keep score.

One more thing about the present economic system, it cannot be simply fine tuned to bring growth down to zero and then continue to be used. This has to do with how the growth occurs through the creation of debt and how the debt is eliminated through the creation of money. In actual fact, the debt will never be paid off and was never intended to be, except for that portion which is owed by the ordinary citizens of the countries involved. The system must be completely broken and a new system which cares about people and the Earth must replace it.

There are alternatives.

Zero Growth economics, Steady State economics, Resource Based economics, barter, local currency, local economies, time banking, gifting, re-establishing the Commons, co-operatives, communes, reciprocity and any activity which is conducted co-operatively instead of competitively would all help to build a sufficient, sustainable and resilient society, something that we do not currently have.

Civilization has been an enormously disruptive and destructive force and cannot continue as is. In the past and at present, human efforts have been directed towards propping up this unsustainable endeavor by dividing life into 2 catogories; humans and everything else.

So far, the Human has mustered enough ingenuity to supress all other life-forms and still continue to proliferate. Civilization has covered such a short span of time, less than 500 years of the 500,000 years of modern human life, the 15,000,000 years of the family Hominidae, and the 2,100,000,000 years of life-on-Earth that a future alien Anthropologist (oxymoron intended) would have trouble believing that one species could have caused a major die-off which included itself in such short order.

So I’m hoping we don’t manage to do it. However, it is obvious that we will not make any of the right decisions to set ourselves on a better course so we will need outside help. Maybe the irony will be that the complex systems (such as perpetual-growth economics) we have devised but are unable to control will turn on us and bring the whole quaking edifice down around us.

I was hoping that would happen today.

What Zero-Growth Economics Really Means . . . . . Really

Below is a link to a paper (PDF) written by Ted Trainer in 2011. It should be noted that Trainer is considered by many to be a controversial figure for his long-standing opinions favouring utopian, simplistic lifestyles. On the other hand this is a refreshingly honest look at the enormity of both the constellation of crises facing the world and the resistance against attempts to alleviate them.

The radical implications of a zero growth economy – Ted Trainer, 2011


“The magnitude and seriousness of the global resource and environmental problem is not generally appreciated. Only when this is grasped is it possible to understand that the social changes required must be huge, radical and far reaching”.

Another criticism of Ted Trainer is that he writes in a way that will almost guarantee his ideas will be rejected by the majoity of people living in a modern, industrial society. This is probably true but since most writers on this subject, including scientists, water down their language and by extension the seriousness of their ideas in an attempt to retain their audience the apparent scale of the problems is diminished, citizen understanding is crippled and the need for a response by those empowered to make change evaporates. In short, someone has to tell it like it is!

“Our society is grossly unsustainable – the levels of consumption, resource use and ecological impact we have in rich countries like Australia are far beyond levels that could be kept up for long or extended to all people. Yet almost everyone’s supreme goal is to increase material living standards and the GDP and production and consumption, investment, trade, etc., as fast as possible and without any limit in sight. There is no element in our suicidal condition that is more important than this mindless obsession with accelerating the main factor causing the condition”.

One of the growing set of tepid responses to Anthropogenic Climate Change is the use of carbon credits which can be traded in a market and transfer one industry’s excess emissions to another which, often for completely circumstantial reasons, is not emitting up to it’s quota. This is the quintessential example of “When you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail” and should also remind us of Einstein’s warning not to use the tool that caused the problem to try to fix it. If you read the paper, you will note that markets are on the things-to-be-eliminated list.

I had been looking for a reasonably comprehensive description of a zero-growth or steady-state economy and this is the best I have found so far. It helps that it corroborates my own thinking about how an economy can actually serve the Earth and the majority of those who use it, rather that serving a tiny minority and causing gross inequity.

Intentional and Coincidental Dissociation of Consequences

(If you think the title is a mouthful, wait until the full reality hits you square in the face.)

I am currently reading Invisible Nature – Kenneth Worthy, 2013.

Here is an excerpt about an incident from almost 25 years ago that says a great deal about how Humanity has come to the sorry juncture of the present:


“The stark reality of poverty and degraded environments is illustrated dramatically by an infamous December 1991 leaked memo authored by Lawrence Summers, then the chief ecomomist of the World Bank: ‘Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to LDCs [less developed countries]? . . . I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that . . . I’ve always thought the the under-populated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted.'”


This book talks about how we in the world of globalised consumerism are so dissociated from the resource extraction, manufacturing, transportation, marketing and disposal of the goods we purchase, use and throw out that we cannot make moral decisions about how we live our lives. This dissociation includes time, space and understanding. Typically we shift the consequeces of our decisions onto future generations of people who live in other geographical areas. Also, since we often do not understand the processes and materials which are being used, even if we tried we could not act as moral beings.

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.

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.

Global Military Dominance — “When will they ever learn . . .”

Yet another good news / bad news story, this one from TomDispatch in the U.S.A. – who would have guessed that, eh?

The good:

“Whatever world we now inhabit, it’s not the twentieth century anymore. Though no other power has risen to directly challenge Washington, the United States no longer qualifies as the planet’s “sole superpower,” “last superpower,” “global sheriff,” or any of the similarly self-congratulatory phrases that were the coin of the realm in the years after the Soviet Union dissolved.”

. . . . . and the bad:

“Only one small problem, . . . the Department of Defense evidently doesn’t have a clue.

Senator Tom Cotton — he of the “Senate 47″ — who just gave his maiden speech on the Senate floor calling for a policy of total U.S. “global military dominance” and bemoaning that “our military, suffering from years of neglect, has seen its relative strength decline to historic levels.”

The “one small problem” referred to above is that this is shaping up as a new “cold”, or more likely “hot” war between America and China with all the rest of us hoping the missles won’t go astray and land on us by mistake. I lived with that fear from the age of five when they dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki until 1991 when Mikhail Gorbachev ended the insane policy of Mutually Assured Distruction aka “MAD”. It seems that particular insanity was only in remission and will probably return to join the others, like perpetual economic growth, that we deem necessary in order to keep the world unstable.

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.

Different Strokes . . . (of the pen)

I have just finished reading Derrick Jensen”s “Endgame – Volume II : Resistance”; and started “The Long Descent” by John Michael Greer (2008). Jensen sees the end of the Industrial Age as sudden and catastrophic and councels the hastening of that event by whatever means we have at our disposal. The reason for this is to save as many resources as possible for the rebuilding of society by following generations. I don’t take exception to any of his thinking as described in the book.

Greer, on the other hand, sees the end coming as a long and painful descent to a time with a much smaller population to match the much more limited residue of resources. This has been the result of the ending of most, if not all previous civilizations which have simply run out of  resources as we are currently doing. His councel is to keep looking ahead at reality, transition as painlessly as can be done and emphasize the retention of culture and knowledge where possible.  I also agree with his premises and view for the future.

A third route into the future is the one we are currently following, pretend the crises don’t exist and carry on with the status quo — this route will, without question be the most damaging to Earth and may well leave humanity with no chance of survival. At the very least, isolated pockets of our descendants would have a place in nature similar to the earliest of the human species — both predator and prey.

Below is an excerpt from “The Long Descent” —


” . . . Imagine that someone, confronted with a diagnosis of a life-threatening illness, insisted instead that he would live forever. For that reason, he refused either to treat the illness or make sure his family had some means of support in the event of his death. He would be considered completely irresponsible by most people — and for good reason. This is exactly the collective situation we’re in right now. For more than three decades we’ve known exactly what factors are pushing industrial society towards its own collapse, and it’s no secret what has to be done to make the transition to sustainability, but the vast majority of people in the industrial world remain unwilling to embrace the necessary changes — and nothing currently suggests that they are interested in thinking about the generations in the future who will grow up in the ruins of our society.

At this point it’s almost certainly too late to manage a transition to sustainability on a global or national scale, even if the political will to attempt it existed — which it clearly does not. It’s not too late, though, for individuals, groups, and communities to make the transition themselves, and to do what they can to preserve essential cultural and practical knowledge for the future. The chance that today’s political and business interests will do anything useful in our present situation is small enough that it’s probably not worth considering.  . . .”


I see these 2 concepts as complementary rather than opposing. At my age (75), I can’t move quickly enough to take part in “removing” dams to let the salmon back up the river without getting caught but I can have a place in at least promoting intentional communities, shelters built from natural materials, permaculture, steady-state economics and other ways of living on the land without destroying it, something that Aldo Leopold said we had never learned how to do. That way, the dam removers will have a place to hang out between gigs and nutritious food to keep their strength (and speed) up.

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.”

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.