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.

A Reason For Celebration

. . . . . and now, something completely different for this blog and, hopefully for your thoughts. An ecological book about the place of the human species in the cosmos — written by a Roman Catholic priest; and a passage from the Old Testament — quoted by me!

(From Wikipedia) Thomas Berry, C.P. (November 9, 1914 – June 1, 2009) was a Catholic priest of the Passionist order, cultural historian and ecotheologian (although cosmologist and geologian – or “Earth scholar” – were his preferred descriptors). Among advocates of deep ecology and “ecospirituality” he is famous for proposing that a deep understanding of the history and functioning of the evolving universe is a necessary inspiration and guide for our own effective functioning as individuals and as a species.

The following excerpt is from his book ‘The Great Work’ – 1999

Even beyond the Earth, the sense of community would extend throughout the entire universe seen as a single coherent community that has emerged into being with a total dependece of each component on all the others. Indeed, we need to think of the universe as the supreme norm of reality and value, with all component members of the universe participating in this context, each in accord with its own proper role.

This was a great validation for me of a point I have been trying to make about the need to raise human conciousness in order for us to recognize the need to take action against the aggregation of crises we have created and which now threatens the very continuance of our species.

If this view of the universe could be brought into the common conscience it would be a great cause for celebration, not trepidation and all that would be left would be the event which would allow us to “see the face of God” as explained in Exodus 33:20 (NIV) – But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”

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.”

Dam (sic) Civilization

Starting a couple of months age, I hit a wall in my reading regimen. Books that were too long, too specific or overly academic put a ponderous damper on my enthusiasm for the (truthful, meaningful and real) written word.

Then, for Father’s Day, my granddaughter gave me a copy of Alan Weisman’s Countdown (2013), long but the subject needed it to be. I got back on track and followed up quickly with Jane Jacobs’ Dark Age Ahead (2004) and John A. Livingston’s Rogue Primate (1994). The stage was set for my current read – Endgame, Derrick Jensen (2006).

“There are two million dams in [America], 75,000 of them over six feet tall. Every one of these dams will someday fail, yet before constructing these two million dams, nobody bothered to find out what would happen to the rivers when the inevitable happened.

What makes this even more inexcusable, absurd, obscene—evil—is that we can say the same thing about deforestation, the murder of the oceans, the manufacture of CFCs, the fabrication of plastics, the burning of oil, in fact all of civilization. Nobody bothered to find out what effects these would have on the natural world. The reason is clear: those who make the decisions don’t care.

If the entire culture is predicated on an unexamined self-assumed right to exploit everyone and everything around you, why should you bother to think about the effects of your actions on others?”

This is a book which, with the exception of the section on dam removal that I am currently reading, I have thought through. Over several years, countless periods of sleeplessness, usually bracketed around 3:00am have enabled me to independently come up with so many of the concepts Jensen built this work on: western society is insane, corporations and their institutions are the enemy of the Earth, governments and their institutions are the enemy of the Earth, civilization is the enemy of the Earth, globalization must be dismantled, financial systems must be dismantled, current systems of government must be dismantled, civilization itself must be dismantled, “This culture is insane. It must be stopped.”

So, to me, the book reads like an old and trusted friend, corroborating my thoughts on all the most extreme and most urgently needed changes to reality; REAL reality, the reality of the only planet in the multiverse which will ever support the lives of homo sapiens (an oxymoron if there ever was one).

On Eudaimonia And The Flourishing Soul

An excerpt from my current read, ‘What is Good’ – A.C. Grayling, 2003:

“Aristotle had a particular concept of happiness in mind, to which he gave the name ‘eudaimonia’. . . a much richer notion than what is now generally meant by happiness. More precisely, ‘eudaimonia’ means a flourishing state of the soul. The English word ‘happiness’ (especially in contemporary usage) embodies a very pallid conception in comparison; one could make everyone happy by putting suitable medications in the public water supply, but that would scarcely convey what Aristotle had in mind.”

Below is a review from Goodreads:

One of the most fundamental questions in our life is to find out what we value – what principles we want to live by and which codes we will use to guide our behaviour. Most of us want to live a good life. But what, in today’s secular society, does ‘good’ actually mean? To classical Greeks, the acquisition of knowledge, the enjoyment of the senses, creativity and beauty were all aspects of life to strive for. Then came the volcanic declarations of St Paul and his fundamentalist ideas on sin and human nature. In WHAT IS GOOD?, A.C. Grayling examines these and other proposals on how to live a good life, from the ‘heroic’ ideals of the Greek poets to Kant’s theories on freedom and the UN Declaration on Human Rights.

aristotleI tried to read this book over a year ago and did not get far before inserting a bookmark and placing it on the “Partially Read” shelf. There it sat until a few mornings ago (about 5:30am) when, as I was thinking about something in the current human condition, I detected a whisper – “Take another look at that book by A.C. Grayling” . . . so I did. I’m very glad I stopped when I did and elated that I started over from the beginning. I’m sure it is destined to be a ‘can’t-put-it-down’ tome this time around.

So here I am at 74 years old finally taking a serious look at classical Greek philosophy and lovin’ it . . . go figger eh? By the way, the picture is Aristotle, not me, just wanted to be “perfectly clear” about that.

There’s Reality and Then There’s REALITY!!

Is cable news worth the cost (or worth anything at all).

Below is an excerpt from Giles Slade’s excellent book “AMERICAN EXODUS: Climate Change and the Coming Flight for Survival” – 2013. He is describing an exchange between meteorologist Paul Douglas and a TV executive at the beginning of the deadly 1995 Chicago heat wave which killed nearly 800 people:

We said, “This is going to be a major story. People are going to be dying This is something you’ld better hit very, very hard . . . I’ll never forget [the executive producer] . . . wanted to do a live shot of some place . . . hotter than Chicago. She kept wanting . . . a featury, lifestyle kind of cutesy . . . story . . . I kept pleading with her . . . “You’re missing the point. We should have people at the hospitals, we should have people at City Hall.” It degenerated into a shouting match . . . She started screaming “You don’t get it! This is television!” . . . I said, “I do get it. I understand. This is a dangerous situation for Chicago. We’re the hottest spot. People will be dying later today. That’s your story.”

You be the judge. Also, take a look here for a glimmer of hope and a glimpse of the difficulties around reporting or finding real, truthful news in a 21st century capitalist democracy.

BTW – For those of us who are Canadians, Slade’s book could be sub-titled “Guess who’s coming to dinner . . . and never going home again.”

Roderick Haig-Brown – echoes of the past

Author, soldier, law enforcement officer, international conservationist, magistrate and judge, University of Victoria Chancellor but, above all Roderick Haig-Brown was a consummate angler in the mold of Izaak Walton. Below is a short excerpt from his last book, “Bright Waters, Bright Fish”, completed in September 1976 – one month before his death.

“So Canadian anglers have in their heritage three unfortunate concepts: there is an unlimited supply of fish, regulations are unnecessary, and fishing should be free. These concepts must be eliminated. The resource cannot support a meat fishery, it cannot be enjoyed for long without close regulation and management, and if it is to be managed properly, there must be a source of revenue — it cannot and should not be offered without direct cost to the participants in the form of licenses.”

“All this regulation is gain rather than loss. The resource is put in proper perspective, as something of immense value, to be cherished, used respectfully and passed on unimpaired to future generations. True, management also brings about some loss of wild freedoms and in some sense a loss of quality; but these are penalties of increasing population. Angling, if it is to persist, can only do so as a sport of high principles, strong ethics and intelligent recognition of the true nature of the resource. Such principles, like the ordinary concrete regulations that bind him under the law, are not a burden upon the angler but positive enhancements of his chosen pursuit. To be fit to make proper use of the fishery, he has to bring something more with him that a rod, a line a hook and a desire to kill fish.”

Now, 37 years later, we are faced with the entire resources of Earth’s biosphere threatened by those who, like Haig-Brown’s meat fisherman cannot think beyond the desire to kill fish or, in this case, to convert natural capital into accumulated personal wealth. The difference of course is that, while few people worldwide have had their lives threatened by a group of fly fisherman who can’t practice restraint, the entire human species is now threatened by the capitalist wealth accumulators who suffer from the same unprincipled greed.

Over the years, I have bored many friends, family members, colleagues and casual acquaintances (I try not to discriminate) with my stories of lost quality of life and I still consider that, in my case at least, Quality of Life and Standard of Living exist in an inverse relationship — as one goes up, the other goes down. I’m not going to expand further at this point (maybe in a later post) but if we run into each other when you happen to be looking for a way to kill some time, ask me to explain . . . . .