Ugly Gerry font of voting districts

SUBHEAD: A computer font made out of the shapes of gerrymandered voting districts.

By Rusty Blazenhoff on 2 August 20129 for Boing Boing -
(https://boingboing.net/2019/08/02/gerry-is-an-ugly-font-made-fro.html)


Image above: A message to Republicans on gerrymandering by someone using the UglyGerry type font. Of course Democrats have played their pert in this as well. From (https://pbs.twimg.com/card_img/1157070040816128006/gEPX-685?format=jpg&name=600x314).

Ooh, this is awesome. Activists have made a free font called Gerry that is made from the shapes of gerrymandered congressional districts. They encourage you to use it to write your representative.

The font’s creators, Ben Doessel and James Lee, made it to raise awareness and provide a method for disenfranchised voters to protest partisan gerrymandering. The duo, in a press release provided to the media, stated:
"After seeing how janky our Illinois 4th district had become, we became interested in this issue. We noticed our district’s vague, but shaky U-shape, then after seeing other letters on the map, the idea hit us, let’s create a typeface so our districts can become digital graffiti that voters and politicians can’t ignore."
For those unfamiliar with gerrymandering, it’s the process by which US voting districts use increasingly nonsensical borders to disenfranchise voters and limit who they can vote for by party lines instead of geography.

Congressional districts have a reputation for being downright ridiculous.
"North Carolina's 12th district resembled a severely broken snake until it was revamped in 2017. Pretty much all of Maryland's districts defy comparison to anything but abstract art. And then there are a few dozen districts that look like letters in the alphabet — so much so that an anonymous gerrymandering fighter turned them into a font.

A few of the letters in the Ugly Gerry typeface are a combination of side-by-side districts, while New York's 8th District is turned on its head to be both the "M" and "W" in the alphabet. But most of the districts don't even require much squinting to resemble letters, which are all downloadable in one file on UglyGerry.com."
From (https://theweek.com/speedreads/856423/someone-made-font-gerrymandered-congressional-districts)
http://www.islandbreath.org/2019Year/08/190803gerrybig.jpg
Image above: The alphabet made of gerrymandered US voting districts. From (https://www.uglygerry.com/) (https://twitter.com/UglyGerry). Click to enlarge.





.https://www.uglygerry.com/

Save Earth planting Weed

SUBHEAD: The cheapest fastest way to avoid climate collapse and extinction is to plant cannabis.

By Ellen Brown on 24 July 2019 for TruthDig -
(https://www.truthdig.com/articles/the-cheapest-way-to-save-the-planet-grows-like-a-weed/)


Image above: Closeup of marijuana leaf. From original article.

Planting billions of trees across the world is by far the cheapest and most efficient way to tackle the climate crisis. So states a Guardian article, citing a new analysis published in the journal Science. The author explains:
As trees grow, they absorb and store the carbon dioxide emissions that are driving global heating. New research estimates that a worldwide planting programme could remove two-thirds of all the emissions that have been pumped into the atmosphere by human activities, a figure the scientists describe as “mind-blowing”.
For skeptics who reject the global warming thesis, reforestation also addresses the critical problems of mass species extinction and environmental pollution, which are well-documented.

A 2012 study from the University of Michigan found that loss of biodiversity impacts ecosystems as much as does climate change and pollution. Forests shelter plant and animal life in their diverse forms, and trees remove air pollution by the interception of particulate matter on plant surfaces and the absorption of gaseous pollutants through the leaves.

The July analytical review in Science calculated how many additional trees could be planted globally without encroaching on crop land or urban areas. It found that there are 1.7 billion hectares (4.2 billion acres) of treeless land on which 1.2 trillion native tree saplings would naturally grow.

Using the most efficient methods, 1 trillion trees could be restored for as little as $300 billion—less than 2% of the lower range of estimates for the Green New Deal introduced by progressive Democrats in February.

The Guardian quoted Professor Tom Crowther at the Swiss university ETH Zürich, who said, “What blows my mind is the scale. I thought restoration would be in the top 10, but it is overwhelmingly more powerful than all of the other climate change solutions proposed.” He said it was also by far the cheapest solution that has ever been proposed.

The chief drawback of reforestation as a solution to the climate crisis, as The Guardian piece points out, is that trees grow slowly. The projected restoration could take 50 to 100 years to reach its full carbon sequestering potential.

A Faster, More Efficient Solution

Fortunately, as of December 2018, there is now a cheaper, faster and more efficient alternative—one that was suppressed for nearly a century but was legalized on a national scale when President Trump signed the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018.

This is the widespread cultivation of industrial hemp, the nonintoxicating form of cannabis grown for fiber, cloth, oil, food and other purposes. Hemp grows to 13 feet in 100 days, making it one of the fastest carbon dioxide-to-biomass conversion tools available.

Industrial hemp has been proved to absorb more CO2 per hectare than any forest or commercial crop, making it the ideal carbon sink. It can be grown on a wide scale on nutrient-poor soils with very small amounts of water and no fertilizers.

Hemp products can promote biodiversity and reverse environmental pollution by replacing petrochemical-based plastics, which are now being dumped into the ocean at the rate of one garbage truck per minute. One million seabirds die each year from ingesting plastic, and up to 90% have plastic in their guts.

Microplastic (resulting from the breakdown of larger pieces by sunlight and waves) and microbeads (used in body washes and facial cleansers) have been called the ocean’s smog. They absorb toxins in the water, enter the food chain and ultimately wind up in humans. To avoid all that, we can use plastic made from hemp, which is biodegradable and nontoxic.

Other environmental toxins come from the textile industry, which is second only to agriculture in the amount of pollution it creates and the voluminous amounts of water it uses. Hemp can be grown with minimal water, and hemp fabrics can be made without the use of toxic chemicals.

Environmental pollution from the burning of fossil fuels can also be reversed with hemp, which is more efficient and environmentally friendly than wheat and corn as a clean-burning biofuel.

Hemp cultivation also encourages biodiversity in the soil, by regenerating farmland that has long been depleted from the use of toxic chemicals. It is a “weed” and grows like one, ubiquitously, beating out other plants without pesticides or herbicides; and its long taproot holds the soil, channeling moisture deeper into it.

Unlike most forestry projects, hemp can be grown on existing agricultural land and included as part of a farm’s crop rotation, with positive effects on the yields and the profits from subsequent crops.

A Self-Funding Solution

Hemp cultivation is profitable in many other ways—so profitable that it is effectively a self-funding solution to the environmental crisis. According to a Forbes piece titled “Industrial Hemp Is the Answer to Petrochemical Dependency,” crop yields from hemp can range from $20,000 to $50,000 per acre.

Its widespread cultivation can happen without government subsidies. Investment in research, development and incentives would speed the process, but market forces will propel these transformations even if Congress fails to act.

All farmers need for incentive is a market for the products, which hemp legalization has provided. Due to the crop’s century-long suppression, the infrastructure to capitalize on its diverse uses still needs to be developed, but the infrastructure should come with the newly opened markets.

Hemp can break our dependency on petrochemicals, not only for fuel but for plastics, textiles, construction materials and much more. It has actually been grown for industrial and medicinal purposes for millennia, and today it is legally grown for industrial use in hundreds of countries outside the U.S.

Just after the nationwide ban established by the Marihuana Tax Act in 1937, an article in Popular Mechanics claimed it was a billion-dollar crop (the equivalent of about $16 billion today), useful in 25,000 products ranging from dynamite to cellophane.

New uses continue to be found, including eliminating smog from fuels, creating a cleaner energy source that can replace nuclear power, removing radioactive water from the soil and providing a very nutritious food source for humans and animals. Cannabidiol (CBD), a nonpsychoactive derivative of hemp, has recently been shown to help curb opioid addiction, now a national epidemic.

Hemp can also help save our shrinking forests by eliminating the need to clear-cut them for paper pulp. One acre planted in hemp produces as much pulp as 4.1 acres of trees, according to the USDA; and unlike trees, hemp can be harvested two or three times a year. Hemp paper is also finer, stronger and lasts longer than wood-based paper.

Benjamin Franklin’s paper mill used hemp. Until 1883, it was one of the largest agricultural crops (some say the largest), and 80–90% of all paper in the world was made from it. It was also the material from which most fabric, soap, fuel and fiber were made; and it was an essential resource for any country with a shipping industry, since sails were made from it.

In early America, growing hemp was considered so important that it was illegal for farmers not to grow it. Hemp was legal tender from 1631 until the early 1800s, and taxes could even be paid with it.

Banned by the Competition?

The competitive threat to other industries of this supremely useful plant may have been a chief driver of its apparently groundless criminalization in the 1930s. Hemp is not marijuana and is so low in psychoactive components that it cannot produce a marijuana “high.” It was banned for nearly a century simply because it was in the same plant species as marijuana.

Cannabis came under attack in the 1930s in all its forms. Why? Hemp competed not only with the lumber industry but with the oil, cotton, petrochemical and pharmaceutical industries. Many have speculated that it was suppressed by these powerful competitors.

William Randolf Hearst, the newspaper mogul, owned vast tracts of forest land, which he intended to use for making wood-pulp paper. Cheap hemp-based paper would make his forest investments a major money loser. Hearst was a master of “yellow journalism,” and a favorite target of his editorials was “reefer madness.”

He was allied with the DuPont Corporation, which provided the chemicals to bleach and process the wood pulp used in the paper-making process. DuPont was also ready to introduce petroleum-based fibers such as nylon, and hemp fabrics competed with that new market.

In fact, hemp products threatened the entire petroleum industry. Henry Ford first designed his cars to run on alcohol from biofuels, but the criminalization of both alcohol and hemp forced him to switch to the dirtier, less efficient fossil fuels that dominate the industry today.

A biofuel-based infrastructure would create a completely decentralized power grid, eliminating the giant monopolistic power companies. Communities could provide their own energy using easily renewable plants.

None of this is news. Hemp historians have been writing about the crop’s myriad uses and its senseless prohibition for decades. (See “The Emperor Wears No Clothes” by Jack Herer, 1992 and “Hemp for Victory: A Global Warming Solution” by Richard Davis, 2009.)

What is news is that hemp cultivation is finally legal across the country. The time is short to save the planet and its vanishing diversity of species. Rather than engaging in endless debates over carbon taxes and Silicon Valley style technological fixes, we need to be regenerating our soils, our forests and our oceans with nature’s own plant solutions.

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Hawaiians fight Mauna Kea telescope

SUBHEAD: Native Hawaiians say "If not now, when will we stand to protect our sacred lands?" 

By Amy Goodman on 22 July 2019 for Democracy Now!-
(https://www.democracynow.org/2019/7/22/mauna_kea_thirty_meter_telescope_resistance#transcript)


Image above: From the Honolulu newspaper The Star labeled "Hawaiian activists prepare convoys ton convoys to proposed telescope site. From (https://images.thestar.com/nOL4rf4iZSFiR1QqCmEx-tahjR8=/1086x869/smart/filters:cb(1563118201053)/https://www.thestar.com/content/dam/thestar/news/world/us/2019/07/14/hawaiian-activists-prepare-for-mauna-kea-telescope-convoys/HIHIO301-413_2018_164051.jpg).

A historic indigenous resistance is unfolding on the Big Island of Hawaii, where thousands have descended on Mauna Kea, a sacred Native site, to defend it from the construction of a $1.4 billion telescope.

Scientists say the Thirty Meter Telescope will help them peer into the deepest corners of space, but indigenous resisters say the construction was approved without their consent and will desecrate their sacred lands.

Last week, police arrested 33 people — most of them Hawaiian elders — as they blocked a road to prevent work crews from reaching the site of the telescope being planned atop Mauna Kea.

And on Sunday, demonstrators reported that more than 2,000 people had gathered at the access road to stop construction. We speak with Pua Case, an indigenous organizer and activist defending Hawaii’s Mauna Kea.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: The Filipino-Hawaiian musician Kalani Pe’a, who’s been at the protests that we’ll be talking about now. This is Democracy Now!

I’m Amy Goodman, as we go to Hawaii’s Big Island, where growing protests are heading into a second week against the construction of a massive telescope on top of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano, sacred Native site, that’s become a flashpoint of indigenous resistance.

On Sunday, demonstrators reported more than 2,000 people had gathered at an access road to stop construction on Hawaii’s highest peak from starting.

Last week, police arrested 33 people, most of them Hawaiian elders, as they blocked a road to prevent work crews from reaching the site of the Thirty Meter Telescope being planned atop Mauna Kea.
HAWAIIAN ELDER: We have a right to worship god in the environment of our belief. Respect it!
AMY GOODMAN: Just hours after the arrests, Hawaii’s Democratic Governor David Ige signed an emergency order granting police more power to clear the way for construction equipment.
GOV. DAVID IGE: This afternoon, I signed an emergency proclamation for the situation on Mauna Kea. Since Monday, protesters have illegally occupied roads and highways. … We do believe that this emergency proclamation gives law enforcement the additional tools that they need to continue to work to keep the people safe.
AMY GOODMAN: Activists say construction of the telescope was approved without consulting the local Native community. The protests build on decades of indigenous resistance in Hawaii. This week, the Hawaii County Council plans to vote on a resolution, quote, “strongly urging” Governor Ige and Mayor Harry Kim to honor a request for a 60-day moratorium on the construction.

For more, we go to Hawaii’s Big Island, where we’re joined by Pua Case, an indigenous organizer, one of the leading activists defending Hawaii’s Mauna Kea.

Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us, Pua. If you can describe for us where you are and just tell us what is happening? Who is building, or attempting to build, this telescope? And why are the indigenous people of Hawaii so concerned?

PUA CASE: Aloha Mai Kako. ‘O Pua Case ko’u inoa. ‘O Mauna a Wakea ko’u mauna.Aloha, everyone. My name is Pua Case. Mauna Kea is my mountain. I’m reporting from a hunter’s check-in station, at a place called Pu’u Huluhulu, which is right across the street of the access road leading up to Mauna Kea.

Mauna Kea is a sacred mountain for us here in Hawaii. Mauna Kea is genealogically linked to the Native people of these lands. Mauna Kea is known as our kupuna, our ancestor, our teacher, our protector, our corrector and our guide.

And so, for the last 10 years, we have held off the project of the building of an 18-story telescope on the top of our mountain, near the summit, on a pristine area called the northern plateau, over our water aquifer and the source of water for much of this island.
Those who are partnering in this project are Canada, China, India, Japan and the United States in the area of California, with the largest single donor being the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in Palo Alto.

So, why we are standing for this mountain is quite simple, Amy. And thank you for having me on the show. If I could put it very simply, I would say, if we don’t stand for the most sacred, what will we stand for? And if not now, when will we stand?

So, we are making a stand as not just Native people and not just the local community, but really a worldwide community, because there are so many similarities. There are Native people everywhere around the world standing for their mountaintops, for their waters, for their land bases, their oceans and their life ways. We are no different than them.

But because Mauna Kea is the highest mountain in the world from seafloor, and, spiritually speaking, there are reasons that Mauna Kea is connected to many different mountains around the world, and the integrity and the essence of water in our spirituality, is why we must not allow 18 stories to be built on the northern plateau of our mountain.

It is the one too many and the one too big. And we have said no for the last 10 years and have been successful so far in stopping the project.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, the foundation gave money to Caltech, is that right, Pua?

PUA CASE: Yes, it is.

AMY GOODMAN: And who was consulted? Why do they have rights to this mountain?
PUA CASE: The university —

AMY GOODMAN: There are other telescopes there, is that right?

PUA CASE: Yes, there are other telescopes on the summit of the mountain. The University of Hawaii has the lease on the summit of the mountain until 2033. So, from the late 1960s, there have been smaller telescopes built on the mountain. And, you know, Amy, you have to understand, and I’m explaining to the world community right now, it would take a whole semester course to try to explain why 13 telescopes are now sitting at the top of the mountain.

What I can say is that for many of our people, my grandparents’ generation and my parents’, as well, you know, there comes — in that time period, you don’t even know if you have the ability to stop something like that. We were in a time period where people would say, “Oh, they’re just going to build it anyway.”

And a lot of times, we were not even aware that building was occurring on the summit. And so, for a lot of different reasons, 13 telescopes sit on the summit of Mauna Kea.

The 18-story Thirty Meter Telescope cannot possibly fit on the mountain. The desecration, the construction and the destruction of the northern plateau is just something that cannot be allowed on our sacred mountain. As I said before, it’s the one too many and the one too big.

So, what I will say is, the University of Hawaii initiated the permit on behalf — the permit application on behalf of the countries, because most of the countries are already up on the mountain in those 13 other telescopes. Only China and India are not on the mountain at this time.

AMY GOODMAN: We heard that the National Guard might be called in. You have the Hawaii governor, David Ige, issuing an emergency order granting police more power to clear the way for construction equipment. He says that the protesters are dangerous. Can you talk about what you expect to happen today? First, I want to go to an activist speaking last week during a news conference.

PUA CASE: Sure.
KAHO’OKAHI KANUHA: And I reaffirm to each and every maka’i, each and every police officer, each and every individual who’s going to come and attempt to get us out of the way, we will stand, and we will stand in Kapu Aloha. We are committed. We are absolutely committed to peace, peaceful protest, nonviolent action. We are not wavering from that. And so, to the maka’i, I ask you folks to make that same commitment, because you guys are not my enemy. None of you are my enemy. Our enemy is this illegal occupying state, that continues to deny the rights of Kanaka, who continue to treat us as a nonexistent, dead people. Eka Lahui, are we dead?
PROTESTERS: A’ole
KAHO’OKAHI KANUHA: Are we dead?
PROTESTERS: A’ole!
KAHO’OKAHI KANUHA: We’re alive.
AMY GOODMAN: That, an activist at a news conference last week. So, talk about the governor’s charges and also where the Honolulu mayor stands.

PUA CASE: That young activist is one of our organizers. That’s Kaho’okahi Kanuha. And his words exemplify the stance that we were taking on the day that the law enforcement came in to the access road area.

And what I want to preference — preface this with is, who would ever think — and that’s what I spoke to the maka’i, or the law enforcement, about as they stood there, some of them in full riot gear with their batons, many of them either our relatives or Native Hawaiians, who are put in a very difficult position to have to stand there and possibly arrest us, and, certainly, the possibility of harm.

So, what I said to them that day was, who would ever think — who would ever think that in Hawaii, I, as a middle school teacher and just the daughter of ranchers that come from this area — and many of us, you know, we are just — we are mothers and fathers. We are aunties and uncles. We are elders, and we are youth.

And being so passionate about what is left of our culture, our sacred places and our life ways — that we would find ourselves standing in the middle of the street facing armed officers with only our Kapu Aloha, or the manner in which we stand, our code of conduct, integrity, standing in the way that our ancestors would expect and command of us, in nonviolence, no resistance, facing our relatives. And so that that in itself is very difficult.

So, Governor Ige, our governor, did issue a state of emergency at the end of that day, after 33 of our elders were arrested because they had made a stand, and they are still sitting in those chairs ’til today, make a stand to block that access road, because that is the only way that the machinery will be able to go up the mountain. So, what I want to —

AMY GOODMAN: Pua, I wanted to —

PUA CASE: — have — yes?

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to read from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, the local paper.
PUA CASE: Sure.

AMY GOODMAN: It says, “The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in 2007 committed $200 million to the California Institute of Technology and the University of California toward TMT’s construction. Gordon Moore is a leader in the semiconductor industry and co-founder of Intel Corp., creator of the world’s first microprocessor.”

You have what happened yesterday at Standing Rock, the Standing Rock Sioux tribal members gathering at the epicenter of the Dakota Access pipeline to show solidarity with you, with Native Hawaiians, who are opposing the construction of this huge telescope at Mauna Kea. Can you compare what’s happening right now to what took place in Standing Rock? Do you see similarities?

PUA CASE: You know, I certainly can, because I was at Standing Rock twice. And so were a large number of our people here. When Standing Rock occurred, we already had a relationship with the leadership of both Sacred Stone Camp and Standing Rock. And, in fact, the first day, when we took that stance, when the elders sat there and chose to block the road, the first caller that we had that morning to bless our day was LaDonna Brave Bull Allard.

So, we have a very close relationship to our relatives, because we are both standing for what is sacred: water. We are standing for the water from our mountain, and they, of course, are standing for their water.

The similarities are astounding, some of them being you have a small space with a large amount of people that cannot help themselves but be there, because for those of us who are either struggling, who have lost so much, when we see the opportunity to assist and support relatives who are going through the same thing, we will do everything in our power to either be there or assist in some way from afar.

So, many, many of our relatives from Standing Rock have pledged to be here, if we put the call out. So, the camaraderie, the alliances, the networking and the relationships that you create when you stand on each other’s front lines is something that is binding. We make a commitment to each other.

Right now we have not put out that call, because we went from 30 people, when we started last Friday — we are up to about 3,000 people. So, at this point, we have not put a call out to anyone anywhere other than Hawaii. However, we are finding each day that relatives from all around the world are finding their way here, even though that call out has not been made.

AMY GOODMAN: And do you expect the National Guard to come out today?

PUA CASE: The National Guard is here, yes. When Governor Ige did issue the state of emergency that allowed for the deployment of the National Guard, we know that they have been flying in. We know that they are housed very close to where we are, because the Pohakuloa military base is just miles down the road.

I can’t tell you what will happen today, to be quite honest. It changes every second of the day. I’m not sure we are aware of what is going to happen. We just remain on alert. We remain vigilant, 24 hours.
We are actually located in a parking lot, which has become a sanctioned sanctuary and safe place for us, and along the sides of a road in lava fields.

So, that’s where we differ from Standing Rock. We don’t have the kind of infrastructure here to create a large camp, except to be right in the elements, in the lava, and in the parking lot across from the access road.

We know that the National Guard is here. We know that a large amount of law enforcement is here, as well. And again, I have to emphasize that we are people, just people. We are not trained. We are not armed. We come from all walks of life. We are Native people. We are local residents. We are visitors. But we have made a commitment.So, what I would like to share, just as an example of how it is here —

AMY GOODMAN: We just have 30 seconds, Pua.

PUA CASE: Oh, I’m sorry. So, what I would like to say, in ending, if we have 30 seconds left, is I want to thank the worldwide community for standing with us. And so, what we are asking is that you go to Actions for Mauna Kea Facebook page.

You can find all the information about us. Thank you to everyone around the world, and to you, Amy, for allowing us to voice what is happening here in Hawaii. We are proud people. We are standing for what we have left. And —

AMY GOODMAN: Pua —

PUA CASE: Mahalo.

AMY GOODMAN: Pua, I want to say thank you for joining us. I’d like to ask you to stay to the top of the hour to do Part 2 of this interview, where you can explain further why you are taking this stand. I want to thank you, Pua Case, indigenous organizer defending Hawaii’s Mauna Kea.

She is there at the access road with so many others, who are trying to prevent the Thirty Meter Telescope, or TMT, from being built at the summit of Mauna Kea, the largest mountain in the world, a volcano. Thank you so much for being with us from Hawaii.

See also:
Mauna Kea telescope protest - Ea O Ka Aina 2 April 2014
Ige listens to Hawaii - Ea O Ka Aina 8 April 2015
Education and the Mountain - Ea O Ka Aina 15 April 2015
Eight arrested on Mauna Kea - Ea O Ka Aina 10 September 2015
No permit for TMT on Mauna Kea - Ea O Ka Aina 3 December 2015

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Sweet and fitting to die for country

SUBHEAD: “Dulce et Decorum est” - Xenophobia, racism, patriotism and collapse are leading us towards WWIII.

By Alexander Aston on 25 July 2019 in The Automatic Earth -
(https://www.theautomaticearth.com/2019/07/dulce-et-decorum-est/)


Image above: Results in Lebanon of America's long fought Middle East Warn continue. In the future this could be Miami. From (https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2018/03/23/the-coming-long-planned-middle-east-war/).
“Dulce et Decorum est” is a poem written by Wilfred Owen during World War I, and published posthumously in 1920. The Latin title is taken from Ode 3.2 of the Roman poet Horace and means “it is sweet and fitting …”. It is followed there by “pro patria mori”, which means “to die for one’s country”.

“The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history’s clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendour never to be seen again.”
– Barbara W. Tuchman, The Guns of August
If you have not read Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August you should do so, it is one of the great, accessible works of history. Tuchman details with great clarity the diplomatic failures, miscalculations and political logics that ensnared the imperial powers of Europe into the cataclysm of the Great War.

It was the book that Kennedy drew upon when navigating the Cuban missile crisis. Just over a century since the guns fell silent in Europe, and nearly fifty years since nuclear holocaust was averted, the world is teetering on what might very well be the largest regional, potentially global, conflict since the second world war.

The United States is a warfare economy, its primary export is violence and it is through violence that it creates the demand for its products.

The markets of the Empire are the failed states, grinding civil conflicts, escalating regional tensions and human immiseration created by gun-boat diplomacy. In true entrepreneurial spirit, the United States has repeatedly overestimated its abilities to control the course of events and underestimated the complexities of a market predicated on violence.

However, since the beginning of the twenty-first century the American Imperium has proven itself as incompetent as it is vicious. After nearly two decades of intensifying conflicts, a fundamentally broken global economy and a dysfunctional political system, Washington has turned feral, lashing out against decline.

The points of instability in the global system are various and growing, and the only geo-political logics that the Imperium appears to be operating under are threats, coercion, and violence. It is at this moment, with the most erratic president in the country’s history, surrounded by some of the most extreme neo-conservative voices, that the United States has been belligerently stumbling across the globe.

In the past few months we have witnessed a surrealistic reimagining of the Latin American coup, the medieval melodrama of Canadian vassals taking a royal hostage from the Middle Kingdom and British buccaneers’ privateering off the coast of Gibraltar. The Imperial system is in a paroxysm of incoherent but sustained aggression.

It has long been clear that if another Great War were to emerge, it would likely begin in the Middle East. Just over a century later, we have found ourselves amidst another July crisis of escalating military and diplomatic confrontations. European modernity immolated itself in the Balkans though miscalculation, overconfidence and the prisoners dilemma of national prestige.

The conditions of the contemporary Middle East are no less volatile than those of Europe when the Austro-Hungarian Empire decided to attack Serbia. If anything, conditions are far more complex in a region entangled with allegiances and enmities that transgress and supersede the national borders imposed in the wake of the first world war.

The United States’ withdrawal from the JCPOA and the stated aim of reducing Iranian oil exports to zero has enforced a zero-sum logic between the American Imperium and Persia. With each move and counter move the two countries are further entangled into the dynamics of a conflict.

Much like the run up to July 28th 1914, tanker seizures, drone shoot downs, sanctions, military deployments and general bellicosity reinforce the rational of the opposing sides and make it harder to back down without losing face and appearing weak.

Due to the asymmetry of the two powers the Iranians have the fewest options for de-escalation while the American establishment perceives the least incentive. This dynamic is further exacerbated by major regional powers agitating for a conflict they believe they will benefit from.

Indeed, the slide to war might be inexorable at this point, the momentum of historical causality may have already exceeded the abilities of those in power to control.

Czar Nicholas and Kaiser Wilhelm were cousins that desperately wanted to avoid war and were nonetheless impotent to avert disaster. There is nowhere near such intimacy, communication and motivation in our current context.

If war with Iran erupts, the Pax Americana will come to an end and humanity will fully enter a new historical epoch. The most unlikely scenario is an easy victory for the United States, yet even this outcome will only exacerbate the decline of the Empire. The other great powers would expedite their exit from the dollar system and drastically increase investment into the means to counter American hegemony.

Likewise, victory would further reinforce Washington’s hubris, generating more serious challenges to the Imperial order and making the US prone to take on even bigger fights. Ironically, easy military success would almost assure the outbreak of a third world war in the long-term.



War with Iran would likely ignite violence in Israel-Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq, re-energise and expand the ongoing wars in Syria and Yemen as well as generate sectarian violence and domestic insurgencies across the Middle East.

Under such conditions regional actors would likely utilise a dramatically intensifying conflict as cover for their own agendas, for example with a renewed Turkish assault on the Syrian Kurds. The conditions for rapid escalation are extremely high in which non-linear dynamics could easily take hold and quickly outstrip any attempts to maintain control of the situation.

Pyrrhic victory for either side is the most likely outcome, making the parallels to the Great War all the more salient. Global conflagration is a possibility, but with “luck” the fighting could be contained to the region. Nonetheless, amplified refugee crises, supply chain disruptions and immense geopolitical realignments will cascade out of such an event.

Undoubtedly, there would be concerted efforts to abandon the dollar system as quickly as possible. Furthermore, rapid increases in the price of oil would all but grind the global economy to a halt within a matter of months, tipping citizenries already saturated with private debt into financial crises.

Furthermore, the entanglement of the military-industrial complex, the petrodollar reserve currency system and the omni-bubble generated by quantitative easing has left the Empire systemically fragile.

Particularly, the bubble in non-conventional fuels precipitated by QE, depressed oil prices with scaled down exploration, R&D and maintenance makes the possibility of a self-reinforcing collapse in the American energy and financial systems extremely plausible. It is a Gordian knot which war with Persia would leave in fetters.

The most likely long-term outcome of a war with Iran would be the economic isolation and political fragmentation of the United States. What is assured is that whatever world results it will not look anything like the world since 1945.

The first world war collapsed the European world system, dynasties that had persisted for centuries were left in ruins and the surviving great powers crippled by the overwhelming expenditures of blood and treasure. We are on the precipice of another such moment. The American world system is fundamentally dependent upon the relationship between warfare, energy dominance and debt.

Conflict is required to maintain control of the energy markets which prop up a financialised economy. A dynamic that puts the nation deeper in hock while amplifying resistance to financial vassalage.

Losing energy dominance undermines the country’s reserve currency status and weakens the Empires ability to generate the debt necessary to sustain the warfare economy.

Likewise, the system of national and international debt peonage parasitizes global populations to work against their own best interests. This fuels resentment and resistance which further drives the warfare economy. It is, in the inimitably American expression, a “self-licking ice cream cone.”

On August 3rd 1914, one week into the war, the British Foreign Secretary Edward Grey famously remarked that “the lamps are going out across Europe and we shall not see them relit in our lifetime.”

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, we face similar, terrifying prospects. Indeed, we could witness the collapse of democratic societies for a very long time to come. If we have any hope of averting calamity we need to generate loud opposition to imperialist warfare.

This does not mean some hackneyed anti-war movement based on past glories and the parochialism of domestic politics, but earnest effort to find common cause in resisting the insanity of those that seek profit in our collective suffering.

This means working with people that we have very deep disagreements with by respecting our mutual opposition to the masters of war. It also means serious commitment to strategies such as tax and debt strikes as expressions of non-consent as well as other peaceful means of direct action.

Indeed, it is from a place of agreement that we can potentially rebuild civil discourse and renew our trust in the ability of democratic institutions to mediate our quarrels. Perhaps it is too late to change course, but how sweet and fitting it is to face madness with dignity.

“What is the cause of historical events? Power. What is power? …power is a word the meaning of which we do not understand. ”
“Kings are the slaves of history.”
– Tolstoy, War and Peace
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Moon Shot Fever Over

SUBHEAD: Landing on the Moon seemed a big deal at the time... But it was not the future we planned.

By Juan Wilson on 20 July 2019 for Island Breath -
(https://islandbreath.blogspot.com/2019/07/moon-shot-fever-over.html)


Image above: Colored pen drawing by Juan Wilson of campsite in Titusville Florida, on the Banana River, looking towards the launch pad for the first moonshot a day before the flight as the launch tower was returning to the VAB (Vehicle Assemply Building). Note mop pole and plastic sheet camp tent behind our rented Camaro. From (Moonshot Part III: Natives Witness the Launch).

It has been fifty years since I witnessed the takeoff of the first successful landing of humans on the Moon. At the time it seemed to be heralding a new future - but it turned out to be a blind alley... a dead end.

Just the year before Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated and the country was in a mood for good news. Throwing a wet blanket on the party was the Reverend Ralph Abernathy, who had succeeded Martin Luther King as leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Council. During the week before the moonshot Abernathy lead  the SCLC in a series of demonstrations titled the Poor Peoples Campaign march in and around the NASA Cape Canaveral launch site. Their rallying cry,
“If we can spend $100 a mile to send three men to the moon, can’t we, for God’s sake, feed our hungry?”
Instead of a Saturn V rocket the symbolic vehicle Abernathy chose to lead the demonstration was a conestoga wagon pulled by mules. I remember thinking at the time that it seemed so senseless and unrelated their effort.

Now I know better. Interest in the moon landings jumped the shark early on. Apollo 14 was the eighth manned mission in the United States Apollo program, and the third to land on the Moon. Interest in the Apollo series was waning. Fuzzy black and white images of grown men jumping around in the dust and desolation of the Moon got old fast.

Alan Shepard, in a feeble attempt to spark interest in the effort famously hit two golf balls on the lunar surface with a makeshift club he had brought from Earth. They did fly far but nobody really cared.

Surviving the next 50 years seems the real challenge for life on Earth now.

See also:
Moooshot Part I: A Rocky Road to the Cape
Moonshot Part II: Up Close to a Saturn V Rocket
Moonshot Part III: Natives Witness the Launch
Woodstock Forgotten: An alternate Adventure 



Kauai Expanding Military Role

SUBHEAD: A testing site for weapons systems, missiles, and rockets in the middle of the Pacific.

By John Letman on 4 May 2019 for The Diplomat-
(https://thediplomat.com/2017/05/kauais-quietly-expanding-military-role/)


Image above: An Aegis rocket is fired from a US Navy ship in test of defense patrols. The navy wants a for aggressive role for the Aegis system. See article (https://www.defensenews.com/naval/2018/06/16/the-us-navy-is-fed-up-with-ballistic-missile-defense-patrols/).


[IB Publisher's note: A former US Navy Commander of the Pacific Missile Range Facility on KauaiBruce Hay  said, "We’re in an isolated location. But, we’re doing big things for very important people all across the globe." (see https://www.thegardenisland.com/2013/09/22/lifestyles/talk-story-with-capt-bruce-hay-commanding-officer-of-pmrf/). Unfortunately that means endangering all life on Earth for the sake of American dominance of the world. We living on Kauai are temporarily in the eye of an apocalyptic storm that will likely devastate our island. Can we not turn towards life instead of away from it?]


In the 76 years since Pearl Harbor catapulted Hawaii onto center stage of America’s Pacific war efforts, the islands’ importance to the Pentagon have only grown. Today, Hawaii hosts 142 sites (military bases and facilities) and, from its headquarters at Camp H.M. Smith on Oahu, U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM) oversees America’s military operations across half the planet. It’s difficult to overstate Hawaii’s importance to the military and increasingly, that includes the island of Kauai.

Since 1940, Kauai has been used as a military landing field, quietly cultivated as a site capable of hosting a broad range of military operations from aviation and underwater testing to amphibious and ground assault training, testing cluster bombs and drones, missile launches, telemetry, radar, and low orbit rocket launches.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

The Garden Island, as Kauai is known, is home to the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF), which describes itself as “the world’s largest instrumented multi-environment range, capable of providing complex and realistic training scenarios.” A spokesman for the naval base said, “PMRF is unique in that it can simultaneously support surface, subsurface, air, and space training scenarios.”

Every two years, PMRF plays a role in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), the world’s largest maritime exercise. In 2016, U.S. Marines and three allied nations conducted a simulated helicopter raid in support of “amphibious, offensive, defensive, and stability operations” at PMRF and the base supported SINKEX, an exercise in which decommissioned naval ships are used for practicing live-fire sinking.
Doing Big Things for Important People
As a missile testing and training facility, PMRF is said to be admired in Israeli defense circles. It’s also valued by NASA, the University of Hawaii, and defense contractors like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, General Atomics, and Northrop Grumman.

PMRF was critical in testing the Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense system as well as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), the mobile missile defense system deployed on Guam and now in South Korea. PMRF also served as the launching ground for the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon, a system designed to strike a 6,000 km range in 35 minutes with an accuracy of ten meters.

PMRF’s commanding officer declined to comment for this story but in 2013, PMRF’s former commanding officer told Kauai’s local newspaper, “We’re doing big things for very important people all across the globe.” Among those big things is providing a home to Sandia National Laboratories’ Kauai Test Facility (KTF) which was established in 1963 in support of the Atomic Energy Commission’s Operation Dominic series of 36 high-altitude nuclear weapons tests in the Pacific.

Since its founding, the 130-acre KTF has supported at least 443 launches and provided resources for assembling, testing, and launching test vehicles on Kauai and elsewhere. Sandia describes KTF as a national asset that offers a laundry list of services from weapons research and development, operational and missile defense testing, radar tracking, telemetry reception, and training and launch projects. Both Sandia and KTF declined to be interviewed for this story.

Combat Ready?
In 2016, PMRF made headlines when USPACOM’s Admiral Harry Harris said the military should consider transforming PMRF from a testing and training facility into a combat ready missile defense base. At that time, PMRF dismissed the idea of serving as an operational facility. When asked again in April, a PMRF spokesman responded: “[PMRF] has not changed and… continues to test technology and train the fleet. The Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Test Complex is a test asset and not an operational facility.”

But testifying before Congress on April 26, Harris said North Korea posed an immediate threat to Hawaii, again calling for a defensive radar system and missile interceptors in Hawaii. Kauai’s Congressional Representative Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) has also been a vocal advocate for introducing a combat ready missile defense system in Hawaii but her fellow congresswoman, Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (HI-01), questioned the need, calling North Korean threats to Hawaii overstated.

‘Bird’ Watching on Kauai
The U.S. Marine Corps is also eyeing Kauai for testing and training CH-53 and H-1 helicopters and the MV-22 Osprey hybrid tilt-rotor aircraft. If approved, additional training would involve low altitude flights in the rugged mountains of west Kauai and the neighboring privately owned island of Niihau.

In an October 6, 2016 email, a Marine spokesman wrote, “No final decision has been made by the U.S. Marine Corps with respect to any new or additional aviation training to be conducted at Kauai or Niihau. The Marine Corps is completing an Environmental Assessment… before making a decision to carry out new or additional aviation training… ”

Despite this, at least four Osprey were filmed flying and landing at or near PMRF ten days earlier. Then, in January 2017, a Kauai resident recounted the surprise appearance of Osprey flying over a public beach some ten miles east of PMRF. He described the incident and uploaded a short clip here.

Previously a Marine spokesman said Kauai was selected, in part, based on past training conducted at these locations and the proximity to PMRF. However, a PMRF spokesman stated, “PMRF is not involved in testing of the MV-22 Osprey. In reference to MV-22 Osprey activities on Kauai, we recommend that you contact the U.S. Marine Corps…”

In September 2016, when the Marines published notification of the proposed increase in training, there was almost no awareness by local government officials. Six months later, in April, when asked about Osprey training, Hawaii State Rep. Daynette Morikawa, who represents west Kauai and Niihau, said she hadn’t heard any news and declined to comment.

Deadly crashes in Hawaii involving both the Osprey and CH-53E heavy-lift helicopters in 2015 and 2016, along with an Osprey crash in Okinawa last December, have raised concern among some, but many Kauai residents remain unaware of the aircraft’s presence. The Marine Corps plans to deploy an additional Osprey squadron (12 aircraft) to Hawaii in 2018.

Dolphins, Whales, and Long Range Strike Weapons
The waters northwest of Kauai include the Barking Sands Underwater Range Extension (BSURE), where the U.S. Air Force has announced a five-year plan (September 2017-August 2022) to test the Long Range Strike Weapons Systems Evaluation Program.

That plan calls for the use of multiple types of inert and live bombs and missiles delivered by bombers and fighter aircraft and requests authorization to take marine mammals incidental to conducting munitions testing.

In an email, a spokeswoman for the 53rd Wing Public Affairs Office cited the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA)’s definition of take marine mammals as “to harass, hunt, capture, or kill, or attempt to harass, hunt, capture, or kill any marine mammal.” Incidental is defined as “unintentional, but not unexpected.”

The Air Force’s 86 Fighter Weapons Squadron’s request for a letter of authorization states that the proposed Long Range Strike Weapons and other munitions operations off Kauai could expose marine mammals to sound levels associated with Level A and B harassment.

Level A means “any act that injures or has the significant potential to injure a marine mammal.” Level B is described as “any act[s] that disturb… by causing disruption of natural behavioral patterns including, but not limited to, migration, surfacing, nursing, breeding, feeding, [etc.]…”

A total of nine species of whales, including humpback, melon-headed, and minke, and seven species of dolphins, including bottlenose, spinner, and striped, could be taken.

According to a NOAA spokeswoman, under the MMPA, NOAA Fisheries can “authorize impacts to marine mammals… provided [they] can ensure that the activity will have negligible impact on the affected species…” The Air Force has said, “No mortality is expected.”

Multiple requests for comment from the University of Hawaii Marine Mammal Research Program went unanswered.

A Shield or a Target?
Despite the breadth and frequency of military activities, most tourists on Kauai, and even many local residents, are scarcely aware of the military presence. Driving west toward PMRF along Kauai’s two-lane highway, a hand-painted wooden sign announces Hanapepe as “Kauai’s biggest little town.”

The sleepy community, better known as the fictitious setting for the Disney animated film Lilo & Stitch, is also home to a Hawaii Army National Guard (HIANG) Armory and the 299th Cavalry Regiment Combat Team Troop C.

It’s here, along the shoreline and by the mouth of the Hanapepe River that the 29th Infantry Brigade carries out monthly reconnaissance and infantry tactics training, preparing for the kind of battles they’ve faced in past deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Here on Kauai, PMRF employs around 1,000 people (mostly Department of Defense and contract civilians) along with 90 active duty sailors. As one of Kauai’s top employers, the military is warmly regarded and touted as a way for the island’s youth to access high-tech and government employment.

It’s one reason why most residents (but not all) see nothing untoward when Kauai’s civilian airport is used for periodic touch and go exercises by the Hawaii Air National Guard’s F-22 Raptors or HIANG training in public, with camouflage-painted faces and firearms at the ready.

Kauai remains synonymous with beautiful beaches, dense tropical forests, and a laid-back island culture. But far from a sleepy Polynesian backwater removed from a troubled world, Kauai is an understated defense juggernaut with a growing role that leaves some wondering if all this weaponry serves more as a shield or a target.


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Nuclear Risk Soar

SUBHEAD: The US is modernizing and expanding its nuclear weapons capabilities, to the detriment of all.

By Jon Letman on 16 July 2019 for Truthout -
(https://truthout.org/articles/as-us-modernizes-its-nuclear-arsenal-costs-and-risks-soar/)


Image above: Illustration of nuclear weapons carrying missiles over sunset on American flag. From original article.

On July 16, 1945, the U.S. detonated the first-ever nuclear device in the New Mexico desert. Less than a month later, it dropped two more atomic bombs, destroying Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing and injuring more than 200,000 civilians.

Today, 74 years later, President Donald Trump has elbowed his way to the precipice of war threatening fire, fury and obliteration against one state that has nuclear weapons (North Korea) and one that doesn’t (Iran). In June, shortly after Trump reportedly called off a military strike against Iran with just 10 minutes to spare, he lashed out on Twitter: “Iran cannot have Nuclear Weapons!”

Meanwhile, the United States is pushing forward with plans to modernize, upgrade and rebuild its own aging nuclear stockpile. Over the next 30 years, the U.S. will spend at least $1.2 trillion on maintaining and modernizing nuclear weapons. With inflation, cost overruns and common under-estimation of weapon systems, the final cost of the U.S. nuclear enterprise could be as high as $2 trillion.

Trump’s 2020 budget alone calls for $16.5 billion (an increase of 8.3 percent over 2019) for the Department of Energy (DOE)/National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) which maintains the U.S. nuclear stockpile.

When President Obama delivered his landmark Prague speech in 2009, he spoke of a U.S. commitment “to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” but quickly adopted the language of the NNSA: “As long as these weapons exist, the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary, and guarantee that defense to our allies.”

A decade later, the U.S.’s nuclear triad — weapons based on land, air and sea — is being granted a life extension, fueling a boon to the weapons industry and prompting opponents to warn of an expensive, potentially deadly new nuclear arms race.

The idea of modernizing the stockpile was born, in part, from the decision to end nuclear weapons explosive testing in 1992. The resulting Stockpile Stewardship Management Plan modernizes existing nuclear weapons through life-extension programs, modifications and alterations in order to maintain a nuclear deterrent.

While “life extension” is meant primarily as a means of refurbishing specific nuclear weapons, it is also a prime driver for nuclear delivery vehicles (missiles, submarines, bombers) to be newly redesigned as more capable, faster, stealthier systems, making the overall nuclear arsenal more lethal.

The NNSA did not agree to speak to Truthout for this story, but an NNSA spokesperson did confirm by email that it is currently executing five major nuclear weapons modernization programs. Those programs include a gravity bomb and an air-launched cruise missile whose nuclear yield can be dialed up or down (adjusted), allowing for greater flexibility.

Among the modified warheads is the W76-2, a lower yield (5-7 kilotons) version of the earlier more powerful (100 kiloton) W76-1. By comparison, the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki were around 15 and 20 kilotons respectively.

The first W76-2 warhead was completed in February at the United States’s only nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly facility, the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas. However, in June, House Democrats blocked funding for deployment of the W76-2 onto submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

Opponents of new low-yield “mini nukes” argue that bombs with an adjustable selective yield option can produce less radioactive fallout, and may thereby lower the threshold for using them, making a nuclear conflict more likely. Currently, the U.S. stockpile includes around 1,000 warheads with selective yield options, some believed to be as low as 0.3 kilotons (exact yields are classified).

“Even the lowest yield is a very large explosive force compared to even the biggest conventional weapons that humans have been able to build,” said Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS).

He points out that the U.S. is not alone in modernizing and upgrading its nuclear arsenal. All nine nuclear states have their own version of modernization reflecting the maturity of their program. The idea that Russia, for example, is modernizing, and the U.S. is “falling behind” is a mischaracterization of the real situation, says Kristensen.

“All countries use that [argument] to their advantage,” Kristensen told Truthout.

Modernization proponents include Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney, who said in a May press release, “Congress must invest in the modernization of our nuclear triad and the additional low-yield capabilities called for in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. These investments are critical to America’s ability to provide credible deterrence and rein in China and Russia.”

In the same release, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton argued future arms-control agreements should take into account Russia and China’s own nuclear expansion and modernization efforts.

Plans to use nuclear weapons are not just an abstraction for U.S. military planners. As the FAS’s Steven Aftergood reported, the Joint Chiefs of Staff posted an updated version of U.S. nuclear policy that included the passage: “Using nuclear weapons could create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability … specifically, the use of a nuclear weapon will fundamentally change the scope of a battle and create conditions that affect how commanders will prevail in conflict.” FAS noted that the original document was quickly taken offline (but not before being preserved).

The above passage provoked concern because people saw it as a greater willingness to consider the use of nuclear weapons. “Rattling the nuclear sword a little more explicitly,” Kristensen said, noting that the language was consistent with half a century of nuclear strategy, but he was struck by the bluntness of the message at a time when the Trump administration is seeking low-yield nuclear weapons.

“To me, those things coinciding is a worrisome trend that we may be seeing signs here that … what you could call nuclear war planning operations are becoming a little more active than they were before,” Kristensen said.

Proponents argue modernization is essential to maintaining a “safe, secure, and effective” arsenal, but modernization can represent many different things. It may be something relatively simple, such as replacing components to extend the life of a warhead, to highly complex redesigns that carry the risk of introducing uncertainty and reducing confidence that a weapon will work.

Kristensen says it may be possible that at some point, a military commander could say they lack confidence that the weapon will function as intended. “The United States, therefore, could back itself into a corner where it would be forced to conduct a reliability test — a live nuclear test of that warhead to figure out it if really worked,” Kristensen said. To do so, he warned, would set off a cascade of nuclear tests around the world.

Tom Collina is the director of policy for the Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation seeking to reduce nuclear risks. He calls the modernization of the U.S. arsenal “excessive and dangerous,” and argues that an adequate deterrence can be achieved with far fewer missiles than the U.S.’s more than 6,000 warheads.

“The more [nuclear weapons] that you build beyond what you need, not only is it very expensive — billions and billions of dollars — but it encourages Russia to build up as well so you create a new arms race,” Collina told Truthout.

According to Collina, the combination of rebuilding the U.S. nuclear stockpile and Trump’s efforts to pare down and withdraw from arms control agreements suggest a dangerous new arms race against Russia is in the making.

“We are planning our whole nuclear policy against the possibility of an intentional attack from Russia — a bolt from the blue,” Collina says. Rather, the U.S. should be more concerned about bumbling into a nuclear war through miscalculation, poor judgment by the president, or a false alarm.

Doubling down on Cold War-era threat perceptions, spending up to $2 trillion to rebuild nuclear weapons based on the past actually increases the danger of an accidental war, Collina argues. “Today we have a very different threat and we’ve never adjusted.”

Collina distinguishes between replacing components that remain unchanged and designing new parts that will result in a new, untested (currently untestable) weapon. “This is the danger when you give these assignments to the weapons laboratories (Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos) because these people like to design stuff. They like to make new things. They like to improve things — it’s kind of their nature,” he says.

In contrast to the positive “safe, secure and reliable” language used by the nuclear weapons industry, Collina offers a more sobering description, calling them “incredibly dangerous killing machines … these are weapons that annihilate women and children.”

He continues, “This is why nuclear weapons are different from any other weapon in the U.S. arsenal…. They do not discriminate between combatants and noncombatants, between civilians and military. They kill anyone, anywhere, nearby. This is why they are not weapons of war. They are weapons of mass destruction.”

After more than 135 nations adopted the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in 2017, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

ICAN’s executive director, Beatrice Fihn, told Truthout that while the overall global number of nuclear weapons continues to gradually decline, those that remain are being modernized, upgraded and given new missions.

“The total number keeps going down very slowly … but they are also making these upgrades and alterations of nuclear weapons, which means that the qualitative impact of using them is not going down; rather the opposite — they’re planning for new types of nuclear warfare scenarios,” Fihn said. “It shows that they are expanding on the type of scenarios where they think that nuclear weapons can be used.”

As technology advances at a pace with which humans are struggling to keep up, Fihn worries that artificial intelligence, cyber warfare, autonomous weapons systems and other emerging technologies increase nuclear risks exponentially.

According to Fihn, the nuclear weapons industry has very successfully used the highly technical and complex nature of nuclear weapons to keep the general public in a state of feeling helpless and completely removed from the decision-making process.

In pursuing the nuclear ban treaty, ICAN is following the examples of successful campaigns that have led to the prohibition of biological and chemical weapons, landmines and cluster munitions. Fihn says there’s a need to strip nuclear weapons of the mystique of being viewed as a security tool with almost magical powers.

“As long as governments believe nuclear weapons are the ‘ultimate security guarantee,’ they won’t be abandoned,” says Fihn, adding that the commonly accepted notion that it’s necessary to maintain and modernize nuclear stockpiles runs counter to the idea of ridding the world of nuclear weapons.

To argue in favor of “keeping nuclear weapons until they are gone” is an incoherent argument, she says. To do so is to never give up nuclear weapons, Fihn argues. She believes nuclear weapons, like other weapons of mass destruction, need to be delegitimized.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, Fihn says, “is the vehicle where we stigmatize and reject nuclear weapons so that they are seen as unattractive, problematic, dangerous — what they actually are is a security threat to anyone who has them.”






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Ghosts of the Fourth

SUBHEAD: There’s one big advantage to living in this flyover corner of America: We're far from the Interstate Highway System.

By James Kunstler on 5 July 2019 for Kunstler.com -
(https://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/ghosts-of-the-fourth/)


Image above: Ruins of the Baxter Marble Mill on the Battenkill River., later the Bartlett All-Steel Scythe Company. From original article.

Here in the Battenkill Valley in far upstate New York, the bones of the small towns are still visible while the flesh of the economy that built the towns is now long gone. The Battenkill River runs from the other side of the Vermont line across Washington County to the Hudson River.


It’s a swift, clear stream, and back-in-the-day it powered dozens of little factories along its winding way. They made men’s shirts, women’s lingerie, tea trays, ploughs, rye thrashers, boots, paper, and lots more. In a few places you can still find the ruins of these once-grand buildings.

We heard there was a good parade up in Salem, NY, ten miles northeast of here. Salem was a railroad town after 1852. It changed everything for a while. Farmers could send their potatoes and milk all the way to Boston.

Slate was abundant nearby and there was a lively commerce in it for roofing and other things. Marble came over from Vermont and was dressed into tombstone blanks, which were sent as far as the Midwest. The railroad itself employed scores of hands in the roundhouse where its locomotives were repaired. This rail connection to distant places and markets must have seemed wondrous.

The system held together for less than 100 years and now it, too, is a ghost presence, along with the factories. History has treated this corner of the country with something that feels like swift injustice. Today, we remain hostages to the automobile, with its geography-negating banality, but you can see the end of that road from here, too, and it is already subject to a very public nostalgia.


Image above: Families chatting and waiing for the parade to start in Salem NY. From original article.

The Fourth of July parade up in Salem was mostly a parade of motor vehicles: fire engines, EMT trucks, tractors, vintage 1920s flivvers, 1960s muscle cars, one classic hot-rod, and one weird Avanti, a mid-60s product of the then-floundering Studebaker Company — which, ironically, had run a wagon and carriage assembly factory in Salem around 1910, just as cars were being introduced.

The economic history of this place looks like a sequence of great works performed at enormous capital investment, and then quickly trashed for the next new thing. It must have been intoxicating at the time. I’d put the high-tide of it all at about 1900, when all the systems of manufacturing and transport were humming in synchrony.

Turns out it was an economy with a surprising purpose: to get rid of itself! And it’s stunning how gone it all is now. What replaced it is not only happening far, far away, but many items made far, far away can’t even be bought within a twenty-mile journey of any town in the county.

I pass through Salem about six or seven times a year for one reason or another. The rather grand old Main Street is usually empty of pedestrians.

Only a few of the remaining shopfronts sell useful merchandise so there is no reason to walk down the street. There are several impressive old buildings — skeletons of that ghost economy — clearly falling into terminal disrepair. Yet, on the Fourth of July, the streets were full of life, for a change.

Many (like us) had come from far-and-wide. We turned out to show love and respect (and curiosity) for whatever it is this enterprise called the USA is supposed to be now. Mostly, our national situation seems a matter of waiting for various shoes to drop.

There’s one big advantage to living in this flyover corner of America: it has received next-to-zero of the destructive suburban development overlay that has obliterated the landscape in those parts of the country that can pretend to still be booming. It is a blessing that I’m keenly aware of. We’re just too far away from the cities, and even from the Interstate Highway network.

So, when I behold the economic desolation in these little towns of the Battenkill Valley, I’m aware that, at least, we will not have to dig out from under the burden of the Big Box hell imposed on just about every other place from sea to shining sea, when that economy turns over — a process actually underway now. The K-Mart in my town, Greenwich, NY, shut down in March.

When enough of those predatory outfits are gone, someone may get a notion to sell stuff out of our empty main streets shops again. Of course, nobody’s thinking about making stuff that might be sold in those storefronts, but a sense of opportunity may arise quickly as the wind-down of Globalism — and all it implies for local places — becomes self-evident.


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Facing Extinction

SUBHEAD: In the end the awareness of death undeniable, and the magnificence of life ever more obvious.

By Catherine Ingram on 15 June 2019 in CAtherineGraham.com -
(http://www.catherineingram.com/facingextinction/)


Image above: From (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2018/12/06/study-ties-great-dying-252-million-years-ago-current-climate-crisis-experts-say). A deer runs from flames as the Ranch Fire tears down New Long Valley Road near Clearlake Oaks, California, on Aug. 4, 2018. As of Aug. 11, 2018, the Ranch Fire had burned 279,306 acres and was 58 percent contained. (Photo by Noah Berger)

DARK KNOWLEDGE

“The heavens were all on fire; the earth did tremble.”
–William Shakespeare
Henry IV, Part 1
For much of my life, I thought our species would soon go extinct. I assumed we might last another hundred years if we were lucky. Now I suspect we are facing extinction in the near future. Can I speculate as to exactly when that might happen? Of course not. My sense of this is based only on probability.

It might be similar to hearing about a diagnosis of late stage pancreatic cancer. Is it definite that the person is going to die soon? No, not definite. Is it highly probable? Yes, one would be wise to face the likelihood and put one’s affairs in order.

First, let’s look at climate data. Over the past decade I have been studying climate chaos by reading scientific papers and listening to climate lectures accessible to a layperson. There is no good news to be found there.

We have burned so much carbon into the atmosphere that the CO2 levels are higher than they have been for the past three million years. In the last decade our carbon emission levels are the highest in history, and we have not yet experienced their full impact. If we were to stop emitting carbon dioxide tomorrow, we are still on track for much higher heat for at least ten years. And we are certainly not stopping our emissions by tomorrow.

This blanket of carbon in the atmosphere has triggered, and will trigger, further runaway warming systems that are not under our control, the most deadly of which is the release of methane gases that have been trapped for eons under arctic ice and what is now euphemistically known as permafrost (much of it is no longer permanent frost).

Methane is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon, and much faster acting. In the first twenty years after its release into the atmosphere, it is 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Whereas the full effect of heat from a carbon dioxide molecule takes ten years, peak warming from a methane molecule occurs in a matter of months.

The Arctic and Antarctic icecaps are melting at rates far faster than even the most alarming predictions, and methane is pouring out of these regions, bubbling out of Arctic lakes, and hissing out of seas and soils worldwide.

Some scientists fear a methane “burp” of billions of tons when a full melt of the summer arctic ice occurs, something that has not happened for the past four million years. Should such a sudden large release of methane occur, the earth’s warming would rapidly accelerate within months. This alone could be the extinction event.

The Arctic summer ice is currently two thirds less than it was as recently as the 1970s, and the arctic is warming so fast that a full summer melt is likely within the next five years. The continent of Antarctica is also rapidly melting at an acceleration of 280% in the last forty years. The massive ice melts that are happening there, such as the breaking off the Larsen B ice shelf defied scientific predictions; the ice shelf known as Larsen C, which broke off in July of 2017, was 2,200 square miles in size.

The Arctic ice has been the coolant for the northern part of the planet and it impacts worldwide climate as well. Its white surface also reflects back into space much of the heat from the sun, as does the Antarctic ice. As the ice melts, the dark ocean absorbs the heat and the warming ocean more quickly melts the remaining ice.

Over the past three decades, the oldest and thickest of the Arctic sea ice has declined by a whopping 95%, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2018 annual Arctic report.

The U.S., Russia, and China are now vying for hegemony of the Arctic region in order to get at the massive reserves of oil that exist there and will be accessible as the ice melts. Aside from the real possibility of military conflagrations over control of the region, moving tankers through and drilling in this sensitive eco-system would cause the dual destructions of rapidly deteriorating whatever ice is left, thereby speeding up the release of methane; and then burning all that stored carbon of newly found oil reserves into the atmosphere.

These and all the other warming feedback loops are now on an exponential trajectory and becoming self-amplifying, potentially leading to a “hothouse earth” independent of the carbon emissions that have triggered them. Each day, the extra heat that is trapped near our planet is equivalent to four hundred thousand Hiroshima bombs.

There are no known technologies that can be deployed at world scale to reverse the warming, and many climate scientists feel that the window for doing so is already closed, that we have passed the tipping point and the heat is on “runaway” no matter what we do.

We are now in the midst of the sixth mass extinction with about 150 plant and animal species going extinct per day. Despite the phrase “the sixth extinction” making its way into mainstream awareness via the publication of Elizabeth Kolbert’s Pulitzer-prize-winning book of that title, most people still don’t realize that we humans are also on the list.

Some of the consequences we face are mass die-offs due to widespread drought, flooding, fires, forest mortality, runaway diseases, and dying ocean life—all of which we now see in preview.

A few of these consequences could even result in the annihilation of all complex life on earth in a quick hurry: the use of nuclear weapons, for instance, as societies and governments become more desperate for resources; or the meltdown of the 450 nuclear reactors, which will likely become impossible to maintain as industrial civilization breaks down.

Since 2011, when a tsunami struck the northeast coast of Japan and caused a near meltdown of three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, it has taken more than 42,000 gallons of fresh water per day to keep the reactors cooled. Keeping the radioactive elements contained requires dangerous jobs for the workers and building a new steel water tank every four days to store the spent radioactive water.

If we were to make it through this gauntlet of threats, we would still be facing starvation. Grains, the basis of the world’s food supply, are reduced on average by 6% for every one degree Celsius rise above pre-industrial norms. We are now about one degree Celsius above and climbing fast; the oceans are warming twice as fast and have absorbed a staggering 93% of the warming for us so far.

If that were not the case, the average land temperatures would be a toasty 36 degrees Celsius (97 degrees Fahrenheit) above what they are now. Of course, there is a huge cost for ocean warming in the form of dying coral reefs, plankton loss, ocean acidification, unprecedented storms, and increased water vapor, which is yet another greenhouse blanket holding heat in the atmosphere.

As I became aware of these facts and many hundreds like them, I also marveled at how oblivious most people are to the coming catastrophes. There has never been a greater news story than that of humans facing full extinction, and yet extinction is rarely mentioned on the evening news, cable channels, or on the front pages of blogs and newspapers.

It is as though the world’s astronomers were telling us that an asteroid is heading our way and will make a direct hit destined to wipe out all of life to which the public responds by remaining fascinated with sporting events, social media, the latest political scandals, and celebrity gossip.

However, beginning about six years ago, a few books and other sources of information began to address the chances of full extinction of all complex life, and these became my refuge, even though the information was the most horrific I had ever imagined.

For decades, I had sensed that things were dramatically worsening, the rate of destruction increasing. As a journalist from 1982 to 1994, I specialized in social and environmental issues. I had written about global warming, the phrase we used in those days, numerous times in the 1980s, but because it seemed a far-off threat, we could intellectually discuss it without fear of it affecting our own lives in terribly significant ways.
As time marched on, I began to awaken to how fast the climate was changing and how negative its impacts. It became a strange relief to read and listen to the truth of the situation from people who were studying the hard data as it affirmed my instincts and threw a light on what had been shadowy forebodings, dancing like ghosts in my awareness.
 It is an ongoing study that has taken me through a powerful internal process–emotional and cathartic–one that I felt might be helpful to share with those who have woken to this dark knowledge or are in the process of waking to it, just as I, over time, found comfort in the reflections of the small yet increasing number of comrades with whom I share this journey.

Because the subject is so tragic and because it can scare or anger people, this is not an essay I ever wanted to write; it is one I would have wanted to read along the way. But the words on these pages are meant only for those who are ready for them. I offer no hope or solutions for our continuation, only companionship and empathy to you, the reader, who either knows or suspects that there is no hope or solutions to be found. What we now need to find is courage.

COURAGE

You got me singing, even though the world is gone
You got me thinking that I’d like to carry on
You got me singing, even though it all looks grim
You got me singing the Hallelujah hymm
–Leonard Cohen
“You Got Me Singing”
For the last quarter century of his life, Leonard Cohen was one of my closest friends. We would often talk at the small kitchen table in his modest home in Los Angeles until the wee hours of the morning, and when I would make a move to leave, he would bring out a fine port he had been saving or show me some of his recent drawings, or regale me with a story of his time in Cuba in the early Sixties.

He loved engagement and there was no place in conversation he wouldn’t go. In his company I never censored my thoughts. Since his passing I have realized that he was not only a close friend but a life mentor.

One of the most inspiring aspects in this regard was what one could call his heart bravery. It is, in my way of seeing, the highest form of courage.
In fact, the word courage comes from the Latin coeur, meaning heart. Leonard’s special genius was his ability to communicate both the sorrow and the beauty of the world, even in the same sentence. He never looked away from either, not even in his final months when pain wracked his body. He had a twinkle in one eye and a tear in the other.

In those last years of his life, we had many conversations about climate chaos, as he knew I was studying the subject. He always listened intently and asked pertinent questions throughout our discussions. Although climate had not been his own focus (his was more a passion for world politics), there was no surprise for him in seeing how close we are to the edge. He understood human nature and assumed we would do ourselves in. One need only listen to his song, “The Future” to know how prescient he was on the matter.

And yet, we laughed over all the years. Laughed like crazy. Leonard was a master of gallows humor, and I have a well-honed appreciation for that form as well. The power of gallows humor, and I highly recommend it in these times, is that it allows a sideways glance at the gathering clouds while one is still sipping tea in the garden.
 All of these small moments of recognition serve to accustom our awareness to difficult realities, to hammer at the chains that bind, to allow us to let go a bit. In sharing gallows humor, it is also comforting to know that your friend sees the tragi-comedy as well. There is an amortizing of the burden when we share a heavy load.

Courage is often confused with stoicism, the stiff upper lip, bravado that masks fear. There is another kind of courage. It is the courage to live with a broken heart, to face fear and allow vulnerability, and it is the courage to keep loving what you love “even though the world is gone.”

DISTRACTION AND DENIAL

They are as children, playing with their toys in a house on fire.
—Gautama Buddha
Never have these words of the Buddha been more true. We love to be distracted from ourselves, and we have myriad ways of doing that in our time. We pay big money for the privilege and we run about chasing objects and experiences in its service.

We seem to be evolutionarily designed to put aside or entirely ignore future threats and instead focus only on immediate concerns and personal desires. This is understandable since for most of human history there was nothing we could do about future possibilities or events occurring far from where we lived.

With some notable exceptions, evolution didn’t select for long-term survival planning. Being concerned about climate change does not come naturally to us. Daniel Gilbert, author and Harvard professor of psychology, proposes four features for why our brains respond primarily to immediate threats.

First, we are social animals who have evolved to think about what the creatures around us are doing; we are highly sensitive to intentions, especially if they seem threatening. Second, climate change does not challenge our moral sense of right and wrong and thereby stir the brain to action. As Gilbert notes, if it was clear that global warming was deliberately killing kittens, we would all be marching in the streets.

Thirdly, unless climate chaos is a threat to us today, we don’t think about it. I find that a lot of the data we see in conservative climate reports refers to horrific changes that will happen by 2100. When we see the year 2100, we easily think, “Whew! No problem.”

Of course, changes occurring by 2100 is an overly optimistic timeline, yet it shows how the brain responds to slow motion threat in the future, even when it will affect the lives of children whom we know in the present.

Gilbert’s fourth reason for why we ignore climate threats is that for millennia we have relied on our highly developed sense apparatus as physical creatures to gauge changes and threats in our environment—changes of temperature, weight, pressure, sound, or smell. If changes occur at a slow enough pace, they can fly under the radar of our notice. The frog boiling in the pot that is only gradually being heated.

During the recent historic floods in Queensland, Australia, the rivers broke their banks and washed into the city of Townsville. As a result, there were crocodiles and snakes in the flooded streets and in people’s back yards. It might well concentrate the mind and promote a flight response to find oneself wading in floodwater on a street or yard that contained crocodiles and deadly snakes. But short of such clear and present dangers, our threat response is slow.

It seems even our genes favor short-term gain over long-term trouble. The twentieth century biologist George Williams recognized that, due to our genes having multiple functions, some genes have opposing functions.

That is, for example, a gene can have great benefits for early life and at the same time cause great harm in later life, a process known as biological senescence. Evolution naturally selects for those genes since the organism doesn’t always make it to later life, so the early benefit has been accrued while the later harm has less chance of being activated.

Biologist Bret Weinstein sees a cultural analog to this process, “culture is biology, downstream of genes.” As he explains, “Ideas that work in the short term but fail and cause vulnerability in the long term tend to survive in our system because they often produce economic benefit.

So if you produce a technology that has benefits for humanity over the course of several decades but the harm of that technology comes only in later decades, you will have become wealthy in the short term and that wealth will have resulted in an increase in your political influence, which will reinforce the belief structures that made it seem like a good idea in the first place.

The market tends to see short-term gains and discount long-term effects until the political structure has been modified by that success. Just as in biological senescence, cultural senescence manifests in a system that is incapable of going in reverse and would drive itself off a cliff rather than recognize that something at its core was leading us into danger.

We now have a cultural system that is making us very comfortable in the short term, but it is liquidating the wellbeing of the planet at an incredible rate.”

Evolution also didn’t select for us to be overly conscious of personal death itself. It would otherwise be emotionally paralyzing. Ernest Becker’s seminal book The Denial of Death, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1974, examined the awareness of death on human behavior and the strategies that developed in humans to mitigate their fear of it.

“This is the terror:” Becker wrote, “to have emerged from nothing, to have a name, consciousness of self, deep inner feelings, an excruciating inner yearning for life and self expression—and with all this yet to die.”

Sheldon Solomon, author and legendary professor of psychology at Skidmore College, spent thirty-five years conducting experiments based on Becker’s ideas. This body of work culminated in what Solomon and his colleagues call Terror Management Theory and relies on proving a central thesis of Becker’s work: that it is through cultural worldviews and through self-esteem that humans ward off the terror of death.

As Sheldon told me in an interview in 2015, “What Becker proposes is that human beings manage terror of death by subscribing to culturally constructed beliefs about the nature of reality that gives them a sense that they’re valuable people in a meaningful universe…

And so for Becker, whether we’re aware of it or not, and most often we’re not, we are highly motivated to maintain confidence in the veracity of our cultural worldview and faith in the proposition that we’re valuable people, that is, that we have self esteem. And whenever either of those, what we call ‘twin pillars of terror management,’ –culture or self-esteem– is threatened, we respond in a variety of defensive ways in order to bolster our faith in our culture and ourselves.” Listen to the full interview here.

Becker’s work relied on examining defense strategies for denial of personal death. We are now faced with the death of all. Therefore denial and defense of denial are accordingly amplified and dangerous.

There is now a desperate rise of religious fundamentalism, superstition, and new age magical thinking, as predicted in 1996 by astronomer Carl Sagan in his final book, The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. To an increasingly anxious species, cultural and religious belief systems offer the promise of eternal life. And people will literally fight to the death for them.

Or they will offer up their children. From the Mayan priests who threw children from cliffs to the families of suicide bombers in present time who joyously celebrate the martyrdom of their son or daughter in the streets with their friends, people would rather see their children die than forego the preservation and defense of their culture or religion.

In places where climate chaos is already underway, we are seeing a solidification of tribalism and battle lines drawn between communities who have formerly lived together in relative harmony. These pressures are bound to increase.
We also find it difficult to think exponentially. We might grasp the concept of an exponential factor but it is not our natural way to perceive. Therefore, as exponential warming triggers other imbalances that also become exponential, we perceive them only as linear problems and assume we will have time to address them. 

We carry on with business-as-usual and return to “the matrix,” the illusion that things are fairly normal, where our ordinary problems, comforts and entertainments await our attention, just like in the movie. But we have now come to the point of “amusing ourselves to death,” as Neil Postman put it in his 1985 book by that title.

As you begin to awaken to the specter of extinction, you will likely feel the powerful lure of your usual distractions. You may want to go back to sleep. But denial will become harder and harder to maintain because once your attention has turned to this subject, you will see the evidence of it everywhere, both locally and globally.

And you will find yourself among the throngs of humanity who are easily distracted and amused, playing with their toys as the house burns, “tranquilized by the trivial,” as Kierkegaard said, and speaking of the future as though it was going to go on as it has. After all, we made it this far.

We have proven our superiority at figuring things out and removing obstacles to our desires. We killed off most of the large wild mammals and most of the indigenous peoples in order to take their lands.

We bent nature to our will, paved over her forests and grasslands, rerouted and dammed her rivers, dug up what journalist Thom Hartman calls her “ancient sunlight,” and burned that dead creature goo into the atmosphere so that our vehicles could motor us around on land, sea, and air and our weapons could keep our enemies in check. And now we have given her atmosphere a high fever. But, as the old adage has it, (a phrase I first heard in the 1980s, which has informed me ever since), “nature bats last.”

You may find yourself in the company of people who seem to have no awareness of the consequences we face or who don’t want to know or who might have a momentary inkling but cannot bear to face it.

You may find that people become angry if you steer the conversation in the direction of planetary crisis.

You may sense that you are becoming a social pariah due to what you see, even when you don’t mention it, and you may feel lonely in the company of most people you know. For you, it’s not just the elephant in the room; it’s the elephant on fire in the room, and yet you feel you can rarely say its name.

I once asked Leonard for his advice on how to talk with others about this. He replied: “There are things we don’t tell the children.” It is helpful to realize that most people are not ready for this conversation. They may never be ready, just as some people die after a long illness, still in denial that death was at their doorstep.

 It is a mystery as to who can handle the truth of our situation and who runs from it as though their sanity depended on not seeing it. There is even a strange phenomenon that some of my extinction-aware friends and I have noticed: you might sometimes find relaxation in the company of those who don’t know and don’t want to know.

For a while you pretend that all is well or at least the same as it has been. You discuss politics, the latest drama series, new cafes. You visit the matrix for a little R & R. But this usually doesn’t last long as the messages coming from the catastrophe are unrelenting.

The Parent Trap. There is one category of people that I have found especially resistant to seeing this darkest of truths: parents. A particular and by now familiar glazed look comes over their faces when the conversation gets anywhere near the topic of human extinction. And how could it be otherwise? It is built into the DNA that parents (not all, of course) love their children above themselves. They would sacrifice anything for them.

So to think that there will be no protection for their children in the future, that no amount of money or homesteading or living on a boat or in a gated community or on a mountaintop or growing a secret garden will save them is too unbearable a thought to hold for even a second. I have also noticed a flash of anger arise in the midst of the distracted look on their faces, an almost subliminal message that says, “Don’t say another word on this subject.”

It is a subject I have learned to avoid in the company of parents although, to my surprise, I am recently finding more of them coming to terms with it. It is an added layer of grief, to be sure, and I can only admire and grieve with them in the knowledge that it is unlikely their children will live to old age, leaving aside what they may suffer beforehand.

I had my own battle of despair with this. As I began to realize the gravity of our situation, I quickly recognized that my own death was not much of an issue. After all, I have lived a long time, longer than most people in history.

'I certainly have preferences about how I would like to die, and I don’t make any claims about having no fear of death at all, but the fact of my own death is something I have considered since my teenage years and has been part of my many decades of dharma interest. No, the despair came from the thoughts about my young great nieces and great nephew with whom I am close.

All nine of them were under the age of ten when I began to realize that they are not likely to have long lives. The anxiety and despair into which I sank was such that I became very ill. I developed a massive case of shingles covering large areas of my torso, front and back in two zones (apparently it is rare to have more than one zone) and I ended up in the hospital. Shingles (way too puny a word for a disease that feels like your nerves have been set on fire from the inside) is considered a stress-related illness.

My anxiety and despair had made me physically sick. Once home and bedridden for the best part of a month, I had a chance to consider how unaffordable my fear and anxiety would be going forward. I had to find a perspective that would allow me to access at least some quiet underneath the profound sadness, some whisper that says, “This is the suchness of things. Everything passes.”

Of course, there are now many millions of parents in the world who have already had to come to terms with this. Hundreds of millions of climate refugees for whom any fretting about the future would seem the greatest of luxuries and privileges. They are struggling for survival due to climate catastrophes, even as you read these words.

SOCIAL UNREST

Of all the threats we face, the one I find most frightening is the breakdown of civilized society. We now see large regions of the world that are no-go zones. Failed states, where life is cheap and barbarism reigns.

Huge swaths of Africa are now lawless and controlled by armed and violent men and boys roaming the countryside in gangs, engaged in despicable acts too sickening to write. The Middle East is much the same as are parts of South America. All of these areas are enduring severe drought.

As professor and journalist Christian Parenti said in an interview with Chris Hedges, “How do people adapt to climate change? How do they adapt to the drought, to the floods? Very often, the way is you pick up the surplus weaponry and you go after your neighbor’s cattle or you blame it on your neighbor’s ideology or ethnicity.”

In his book, Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence, Parenti writes: “Climate change arrives in a world primed for crisis. The current and impending dislocations of climate change intersect with the already-existing crises of poverty and violence. I call this collision of political, economic, and environmental disasters ‘the catastrophic convergence.’ ”

In their desperation, people, especially women, sell themselves into prostitution and other forms of modern slavery. Or they are taken and sold by others. Human trafficking is now big business worldwide. People also sell their own children to save the rest of their families. I saw a CNN news interview with a widow and her son and daughter in a refugee tent in Afghanistan.

Having left the drought-ridden area of her home region, she was explaining to the reporter that she was selling her six-year-old daughter to an old man so that she could feed herself and her son. The little girl sat quietly by her side, looking sad and bewildered, perhaps dimly aware that whatever change to come in her already difficult life was going to be a far worse fate.

Nearby sat the old man who was purchasing her as a “gift” for his ten–year-old son, this rationale most likely for the benefit of the reporter, one that I didn’t believe as I suspected an even darker plan for the little girl. Apparently, this is a common practice now in the Afghan refugee community.

It is no wonder that people leave these hellholes with nothing but the clothes they are wearing and make their way, often risking death, to countries of greater abundance and saner policies. It is also no wonder that those countries don’t want them. At some point in loading a rowboat, even one extra person will sink it. And many of the refugees are nationals of countries with almost opposite values of those of their new host countries.

Europe is now on the front lines of the refugee crisis and is struggling to hold itself together. It is one of the great historical ironies that the European countries, perhaps the most enlightened and progressive of all time, are employing greater and greater draconian measures to try to preserve what they have.

But the refugees will keep coming, in the millions and then the hundreds of millions, and there will be no walls or armies strong enough to stop them. This is true not only for Europe but anywhere there is potential for a better life.

The places where there still exists “a better life” are rapidly deteriorating as well. In Chris Hedges’ book, America: The Farewell Tour, he forensically chronicles the decline of 21st century America. The “flyover” states, that is, almost everywhere except the coasts, are ridden with poverty, alcoholism, prostitution, drug and gambling addiction, porn addiction, violence, inferior education, depression and other mental illnesses, poor physical health, and suicide. “The diseases of despair” as sociologists call them.

These diseases of despair likely have a correlation to our severance from the natural world. At the 2017 Bateson Symposium in Sweden, Rex Weyler gave a thought-provoking presentation called “Ecological Trauma and Common Addictions.” Weyler, one of the founders of Greenpeace, defines ecological trauma as “the experience of witnessing – consciously or not – the pervasive abuse and destruction of the natural world, of which we are a part, and for which we have a primal affinity.

Almost everyone in the modern, industrial world can tell stories of treasured childhood experiences in natural settings or wilderness sanctuaries that have been obliterated for a shopping mall, parking lot, highway, or other industrial, consumer function.

“Modern neuroses and addictions, prevalent in industrial nations, can be traced, at least partially, to the trauma of separation from natural security and the trauma of witnessing the abuse of nature. The marvels and conveniences of technological society provide only a thin veneer over our natural being. We remain biophysical animals akin to ants and raccoons.

“Regardless of prevailing conceits, we retain patterns learned from fifty million years of primate evolution, five million years of hominid development in productive ecological habitats, and 500,000 years of fire-bearing, tool-making hunter-gatherer culture.

During this long genesis, humanity grew within the comfort and constraints of an intact ecosystem that supplied sustenance, vital lessons, wonder, and a home. Watching that home fall under the blade of industrialism shocks our system, whether we know it or not.

“Within the last few hundred years, industrial culture has widened this separation from nature, divided families, and destroyed communities, creating alienated individuals clinging to scarce jobs and rewarded with packaged food and entertainment, like the “bread and circuses” that Roman emperors bestowed upon disenfranchised peasants.”

In fact, for the past two years, average life expectancy in the USA has declined due to suicide and opioid overdoses. The U.S is now in the midst of the worst drug epidemic in its history; more people die from opiate overdoses than from car accidents or gun homicides.

Due to the poverty existent in these communities there is also a breakdown of law and order as well as basic services. The local municipalities are going broke and are beginning to function like banana republics.

Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), the largest utility company in the United States, provides gas and electric power for two thirds of California. It just filed for bankruptcy protection against lawsuits of an estimated thirty billion dollars due to its power lines blowing about and possibly starting some of the deadly fires that recently occurred in California. Who bails out the utility companies when these things occur?

The Federal Government, which means the taxpayers get the bill. How long can governments bail out corporations? The US national debt, for instance, now stands at 22 trillion dollars. At what point is the “let’s pretend” game of currency value over? How long will we be able to exchange pieces of paper for food? And what will happen when we are forced to make extreme sacrifices?

The richer countries are particularly intolerant of making even relatively small sacrifices that might have a future benefit; for example, the “yellow vest” riots that began in Paris in October 2018 and spread throughout the country.

The fracas started when French President Emmanuel Macron announced an “eco-tax” on fuel in an attempt to fulfill his campaign promise to address global warming. Soon after the rioting began, the government walked back any talk of the tax, but by then the rioters had added on a host of other grievances and the mayhem began to grow, becoming more violent, destructive, and deadly.

These are not people who are starving or being removed at gunpoint from their homes. These are people who are being asked to sacrifice some of their income for the greater good. But as we are seeing there and elsewhere, short-term greed prevails.

What is happening in France is no doubt a cautionary tale to other progressive world leaders who dare to challenge Big Oil and its hungry consumers. It is a mark of immaturity to be unable to delay personal satisfaction for the chance at greater wellbeing for all at a later date.

And it is yet another wearisome example of why we humans are in the mess in which we find ourselves. We see it throughout human history. Greed is not new to modern times. We can easily understand the greedy impulse as most of us are afflicted with it.

Perhaps the evolutionary imperatives from ancient times would have had no use for delayed gratification since servicing immediate needs often meant the difference between life and death. However, we can now see that being enslaved to our base desires and impulses is contraindicated to our survival.

Seeing disintegrations occur in the developed countries gives a glimpse as to what societal and economic breakdown will look like when there are widespread food shortages everywhere and when the infrastructures, including the electric grids, become spotty, too costly to maintain, or are no longer working.

OVERPOPULATION AND CO-EXTINCTIONS

In 1952, when I was born, there were approximately 2.6 billion people on earth. There are now 7.7 billion, a more than threefold increase in my lifetime. Our use rate of resources would allow for our planet to sustainably host only about one billion people.

As William Catton explained in his 1980 book Overshoot, we are in “carrying capacity deficit.” In other words, the load on resource use is far in excess of its carrying capacity. Of course, the only way we have been able to pull this off is by stealing from the future, just as we might have a garden of food that could last ten people through the winter and instead we have a wild party for a thousand and go through the entire supply in an evening.

It is also troubling to realize that whatever reasonable measures we might attempt to mitigate our situation, and there are none known that can be done at scale, the addition of roughly 220,000 humans per day (births minus deaths) would curtail our efforts at mitigation.

According to many scientific studies, some of the inevitable outcomes of overpopulation are severely polluted water, increased air pollution and lung diseases, proliferation of infectious diseases, overwhelmed hospitals, rising crime rates, deforestation, loss of wildlife leading to mass extinctions, widespread food shortages, vanishing fish in the oceans, superbugs and airborne diseases along with diminished capacity to treat them, proliferation of AIDS, less access to safe drinking water, new parasites, desertification, rising regional conflicts, and war.

As astrobiology professor Peter Ward explained in a story on the BBC, “If you look at any biological system, when it overpopulates it begins to poison its home.”

Of course, when we speak of overpopulation we specifically refer to humans. In fact, human activity is causing massive die-offs of the other species. With overpopulation and pollution we lose habitats that sustain biodiversity and we have consequently lost 60% of the world’s wildlife since 1970. The UN’s intergovernmental report on biodiversity, which came out in April 2019, found that a further one million animal and plant species are now at risk for extinction.

Only our livestock are growing in numbers. Think about that phrase in its two component words: “live” and “stock.” Living animals as stock, as product. To view animals as products requires ignoring the plight of these living creatures: the industrial food systems of torture for hundreds of millions of animals–animals who have emotions, care for their young, and who suffer fear and pain only to be slaughtered in the end, perhaps the only mercy they will know. Industrial animal farming is also known to be one of the top causes of global warming.

The biodiversity loss of wild animals and plants, however, creates a domino effect into what is called co-extinctions: when a species at early risk of environmental changes dies, the various species that depended on that one die, and then the species that depended on those die.

The domino effect in extinctions goes into yet another exponential feedback trajectory. Scientists Giovanni Strona and Corey Bradshaw conducted an experiment in which they computer-modeled “2,000 virtual earths to create conditions of species-like entities arranged in interconnected ecological communities.” They then subjected those communities to various environmental stresses, particularly those of temperature.

What they found can be gleaned from the title of their peer-reviewed paper, published in Scientific Reports: “Co-extinctions Annihilate Planetary Life During Extreme Environmental Change.” In other words, the health of the interconnected natural world depends on the web of life within it.

When substantial parts of that web die off, it annihilates planetary life in general. This includes, of course, the higher and more complex forms of life. That means us. Thinking that we can lose most of the biodiversity of planetary life and still find ways to feed ourselves is delusional.

At a recent biodiversity conference in Dublin, Irish president Michael Higgins said in his address to the assembly: “If we were coal miners, we would be up to our knees in dead canaries.”

Along with all of the other threats we face, co-extinction within the natural world is becoming one of the most pressing problems. For anyone familiar with General Systems Theory, this is easily intuited. Yet many people compartmentalize information when they hear of extinctions of the other plants and creatures and think it has little to do with their own existence.

They see the iconic image of the polar bear floating on a small ice chunk and think, “What does the loss of polar bears mean to my life? Nothing.” They might, however, be surprised to learn that the loss of the world’s insects is going to impact everyone on the food chain as the pollination of plant life dramatically slows.

A recent article in the New York Times entitled “The Insect Apocalypse Is Here” explains also the concept of “functional extinction,” that is when a species is still present but so diminished in its numbers that it no longer functions or interacts within its environment.

In the case of insects, for example, it results in “an extinction of seed dispersal and predation and pollination and all the other ecological functions an animal once had, which can be devastating even if some individuals still persist.”

It doesn’t require a full-scale extinction of insects or other species to disrupt their necessary role in a healthy eco-system. A partial die-off will do the job. Inability to grow fruits, vegetables, and grains in the food-growing regions will inevitably lead to soaring food prices and starvation for millions.

Understanding the ills of overpopulation and co-extinctions puts one in the difficult position of concern for people bringing babies into the world. For the first time in history, it is hard to celebrate the arrival of newborns when one is aware of the deadly pressures of overpopulation, climate chaos, and collapse of our life support systems. It is sad to think of what a new little being is likely to endure.

And as his or her parents awaken to the global reality, they will likely face increasing anxiety and sorrow. Once you come to know a child, whether your own or anyone else’s, your love for the child makes for a heart-wrenching worry, especially if you are responsible for bringing that child into this world.

I encourage people to save a baby, not have a baby. Consider adopting one of the millions of children in need of a loving parent and give that child a happy home for as long as possible. You will need to override the evolutionary imperative to give birth to your own. We are, in our time, confronted with many such challenges to the usual imperatives of evolution and assumptions therein.

TECHNO FIXES AND ESCAPE TO MARS

We humans love technology. It has been the means by which we became the dominant species on the planet, doubled our life spans, traveled the globe collecting resources and ideas, and hooked ourselves up to instantaneously connect with anyone anywhere from our own homes.

It is a source of entertainment, education, artistic creativity, medical advances, and uses too numerous to list. It has also been a source of destruction. It has allowed us to rapidly denude and poison the eco-system and caused the extinction of much of the natural world.

Energy and industrial technologies have destabilized and poisoned our atmosphere and waterways. Our cyber technology has created a global industry of online financial theft, child pornography and predation, identity theft, illegal drugs, and many other criminal endeavors made possible through the internet.

War technologies have made us the most effective killing species ever in history. In the 20th century, the deadliest in history thus far, an estimated 231 million people –most of them non-combatants–died in war and conflicts. High tech weaponry in the 21st century is even more capable of large scale death and destruction at the push of a button from thousands of miles away.

As Joanna Macy told me in an interview more than thirty years ago, “We think technology will save us. Technology got us into this mess.”

And yet, many people assume technology will indeed address our gnarly ecological problems by changing us to adapt to the problems or by simply moving away from Earth altogether. Some of the technotopians, those who think technology will create a future utopia, want to send us to Mars. There are also those who are hoping we can discard our biological selves altogether (who wants to drag around a carcass of meat?) and instead just download our consciousness into computers and thereby live forever. Thinking forever.

Or we might prefer to be part cyber and part human. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and Space X, and co-founder of Neuralink has plans in the works that will allow us to inject a computerized neural mesh into our brains, a lace-like filament that unfurls itself onto the brain and creates the capability to interface with a computer.

The procedure would allow digital knowledge to be directly stored and accessed through one’s own gray matter. This blend of digital and biological technology would, in Musk’s view, give us a chance against what he sees as the coming threats of unregulated artificial intelligence.

Musk is also working on plans to colonize Mars. He sees the possibility for humans to become “a multi-planet species,” which he imagines will alleviate our problems on earth, especially if World War III were to erupt. He envisions a first tier of travel to the Red Planet in thirty-five-story rockets that he is currently designing.

Musk’s plan also includes domed, terra-formed, sealed enclosures in which people will live on Mars the entirety of their days and nights (after all, they cannot go outside due to there being almost no oxygen, an atmosphere of 95% carbon dioxide, radiation levels of the equivalent of 24 CAT scans per day, and average temperatures of minus sixty-three degrees Celsius). Bill Maher did a hilarious and insightful segment about moving to Mars on his show, “Real Time with Bill Maher.



Image above: A green house at Biosphere 2 in 2008 after it was abandoned as an experiment in post apocalypse survival. From (http://www.arpajournal.net/biosphere-2/) .


In planning a move to Mars it might also be useful to consider the psychological impacts of earthlings living in close quarters with each other and having no contact with the outside world. As a pre-curser to a Mars colony, we tried something like this on Earth in the early 1990s. It was called Biosphere 2 and was an attempt to replicate Earth’s bio systems in a completely closed greenhouse facility covering about three acres in the Arizona desert.

The structure contained seven “biomes,” (various bio regions, such as a rainforest, mini ocean, coral reef, mangrove, savannah) and was home for two years to eight crew members, known as “biospherians,” who grew their own food within and kept the internal systems running.

Except that there were problems. Soon into the experiment, which began in 1993, carbon dioxide levels began to rise and oxygen and food levels began running low. In addition, there developed a syndrome called “irrational antagonism,” in which rifts and estrangements among the eight crew members resulted in a four-against-four tribalism that continued to the end of the experiment. As Jane Poynter, one of the original eight, said in a TED talk: “We all went quite nuts, I will say.”

A year later in the second attempt at Biosphere life, a new group were able to grow enough food and didn’t need added oxygen, but they were only in the facility for six months. In any case, when problems involving oxygen, food, or water arose, help was only a phone call and a short jaunt away, instead of thirty three million miles.

I have watched many interviews with Elon Musk. I like him. I don’t see him as Dr. Evil. He is akin to the genius kid in class who excitedly shows you the power grid he built with his Lego set. Musk and the engineers re-fashioning nature are part of a long line of techno wizards who have made our epoch into what is now called the Anthropocene, “the geologic age in which human activity is the dominant influence on climate and the environment.”

It has been our historical privilege to have new frontiers of untapped resources whenever we overshot any given region. We could always move to another place, either one that was uninhabited or one that might require that we negotiate with, subdue, or eliminate the people who were already there. The earth was large and abundant for most of human history.

 But it is now rapidly shrinking; that is, we are much more in number while the habitats that can support life are far fewer, as Bill McKibbin details in a 2018 New Yorker article entitled, “How Extreme Weather is Shrinking the Planet.”

The actual “economy” now is the world population in relation to the habitats that are capable of sustaining life. In this we are in deficit. And so, it may seem a great idea for people such as Elon Musk and others to find new ways for human life to continue, either in space or with a new kind of brain.

Geo-engineering, or climate engineering, is a more realistic form of techno-fixes in that many of the proposals are more possible than cyber tweaking our brains, downloading consciousness, or moving to Mars. For that reason, geo-engineering is more disturbing as it is likely to be increasingly deployed when the world soon becomes more desperate.

One type of geo-engineering involves solar radiation management (SRM), the attempt to reflect sunlight back into space. Proposals for this include spraying tons of sulfates (or, slightly less worrisome, salt crystals) into the atmosphere to block sunlight, and modifying clouds, plants, and ice to make them more reflective. In the spring of 2019, a group of Harvard scientists plan to test a new technology designed to block sunlight by releasing calcium carbonate into the stratosphere over the US southwest.

One obvious problem with SRM is that, leaving aside potentially deadly impacts of messing with the very air we breathe, we will still be heating up from the ground. It might be akin to putting a sun reflector on the window of your car on a hot day. The car is still heating up inside but a little less fast.

Another type of geo-engineering is known as carbon capture and sequestration, (CCS) which involves removing carbon from the atmosphere and building facilities to store it. One of the many proposals being considered is to seed the ocean with iron pellets to create plankton blooms, which sequester carbon. Another route along these lines is known as Bio Energy Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS).

An example of this, which is now a “demonstrator” project in the U.K, is to burn wood and then capture the carbon, the idea being that trees sequester carbon, so growing and burning them at a nearby capture facility would create negative carbon emissions. Critics of this method say that it does not accurately calculate the costly energy processes (and carbon emissions therein) involved in such a roundabout endeavor.

If reading about these methods makes you queasy, you are not alone. Many of us intuitively resist messing with the atmosphere or creating methods that allow carbon emissions to go on as before in the deluded belief that we are handling the situation. There is the concern that unintended consequences may likely speed up the destruction.

And there is an almost cellular sadness at the thought of human hands now further manipulating the climate after we have already put it so far out of balance. But many people want to try geo-engineering, even though a great deal of data shows how ineffective, carbon costly, and dangerous it is.

Clive Hamilton, Professor of Public Ethics and a member of the Climate Change Authority of Australia, goes into this in depth in his detailed book, Earth Masters: The Dawn of the Age of Climate Engineering. See also Greenpeace’s report on carbon capture, sequestering, and storage.

Geo-engineering plans are chilling because they are being proposed not merely by conspiracy kooks but by some of the wealthiest, most powerful, and brilliant engineering minds of our time. And they are being funded by coalitions of big oil and gas companies, along with governments, who rely on science that deemphasizes negative impacts.

Although profit is no doubt a strong motive, it is useless to demonize people who are pursuing these paths, especially when they feel they are mitigating a crisis. But it is also important to understand that their wisdom may not be as developed as their particular forms of intelligence.

It is not necessarily true that just because a technology is possible, we should try it because we are in crisis. (“If we could do it, we should do it.”) We have ignored, now to our peril, the long-term consequences of many of our technologies and put these technologies online without public discussion.

As Jerry Mander, told me in an interview in 1991 following the publication of his book In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations, “New technologies are introduced to us without a full discussion of how they are going to affect the planet, social relationships, political relationships, human health, nature, our conceptions of nature and of ourselves.

Every technology that comes along affects these things. Cars, for example, have changed society completely. Had there been a debate about the existence of cars, we would have asked,
Do we want the entire landscape to be paved over? 
Do we want society to move into concrete urban centers? 
Do we want one resource–oil–to dominate human and political relationships in the world?
Our culture lacks a philosophical basis, an understanding of the appropriate human role on earth that would inform these developments before they happen. Such an understanding would enable us to say, no, we cannot go in that direction because it is desacralizing of life, a failure to be grounded in the natural world and lacking any sense of limits.

You see, once you’re living in an industrial, technological society, choices become much more difficult. Even if you believe that cars are inappropriate, you almost cannot function without the use of a car. You can’t function if you don’t have a telephone or a computer–unless you retire from participation.”


The disparity between wisdom and intelligence may be the inevitable downfall of many other kinds of life in the universe as well. There is a theory known as The Great Filter, which seeks to explain why, despite the overwhelming odds of there being life on other planets, we have not heard from any of them.

Astrophysicists have now calculated that in the known universe there are about 10 billion trillion planets that would have what they call “a goldilocks zone,” planets whose orbits are in a particular proximity to their star that is similar to our own, not too close and not too far. Just right.

The Great Filter proposes that before a civilization reaches the level of development that would allow for intergalactic communication and travel, it wipes itself out through climate change, overpopulation, or other factors having to do with the rise of technological civilization.

As Adam Frank, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester, New York, explained in an interview with Chris Hedges, “If you develop an industrial civilization like ours, the route is gonna be the same. In particular, you are going to have a hard time not triggering climate change.


Unlike (with) nuclear war. For a civilization to destroy itself through nuclear war it has to have certain kinds of emotional characteristics, right? You can imagine some civilizations (saying), ‘I’m not building those; those are crazy!’


But climate change, you’re not going to be able to get away from. If you build a civilization, you’re using huge amounts of energy; energy that feeds itself back on the planet, and you’re going to push yourself into a kind of Anthropocene, so it is probably universal. And then the question is, “Does anybody make it through?”

After all, each and every one of us is a heat engine. Studies at MIT and elsewhere have shown the global average carbon emission footprint per person per year is four tons (the American average per person is twenty tons per year).

I first read The Great Filter theory a few years ago. It made sense to me then and ever since. In previous years, I had considered our predicament as a “species problem,” that we had a terrible kink in our evolution that made us ecocidal, homicidal, and suicidal.

But the theory of The Great Filter allowed me to see that humans are just doing what we were evolutionarily destined to do. It is not an aberration of evolution, even though it will destroy all complex life. Nor is it is the result of any one thread of evolution, any particular age or technological advancement or economic system.

Take capitalism for instance. It is unsustainable at its core as it relies on continued economic expansion and growth in a system of finite resources. In the process, it also speeds up the complete elimination of the very resources on which it relies.


But the problem is that the human creature will postpone challenging that system as long as the goods keep flowing, no matter the future costs. Capitalism is a perfect representation of the human need and greed for more, future be damned. Very few cultures in modern civilization have managed to resist it.

There is now a lot of false hope around “Green Capitalism” and the Green New Deal in the USA.

Given that capitalism, of any color, inevitably relies on extraction of resources in the production or transport of goods, feeling encouraged about Green Capitalism is another form of deluded bargaining in the Kubler-Ross stages of grief. As Derrick Jensen elegantly defines it: “Capitalism is a system by which the living is converted into the dead.”

Capitalism itself is heading to its own extinction. As resources dwindle and the numbers of people vying for them increase, we are facing collapse of the largest Ponzi scheme of all, the global financial system.

THE END OF LEGACY

As your awareness metabolizes the deadly threats ahead and the unlikeliness of solutions that will change the course, you might find a strange re-ordering of your thoughts and motivations. For one thing, you will no longer need to consider what you might leave behind as there will not likely be anyone there to see or experience it, at least not for long.

There is a cognitive dissonance that takes getting used to when you realize there is no need to consider how you or your name will be remembered in the future. Not only that, your interest in future projections about life begins to fall away. You may marvel at how many personal conversations with people you know or news items from around the world assume that human life carries on indefinitely.

You may find it difficult to hold interest in these conversations and stories, as though you chanced upon a madman on a street corner earnestly proclaiming his grand plans for the future when it is clear he is hallucinating. You don’t hang on his every word.

But the habit of future thinking is a hard one to shake.

People are often conditioned in the idea of leaving behind a legacy and they spend a lot of their lives in perhaps an unconscious dedication to that project. They erect monuments to their names or the names of their loved ones in myriad ways, from India’s Taj Mahal to a name on a park bench in their hometowns. They build financial empires or leave behind bodies of work, creations of art, literature, ideas, and inventions. Some people might simply want to live in the memories of those whom they loved.

But the most common and by far the most emotionally charged form of legacy is in having children. These times challenge all the usual joys and hopes parents might have in seeing their children grow. You watch them cramming for exams, learning to play the violin, applying for programs, or any other training or activity in which hard work and study in the present promises future advancement, and your heart aches.

In facing extinction, you find yourself thinking, “What’s the point of all that effort; should they even bother going to school? Maybe we should just find ways to enjoy whatever time is left with our children without any future goals.” You may wonder if you should spend down your bank account if you are so privileged as to have surplus wealth.

Letting go of the future means re-ordering your tendencies of thinking about the future. How psychologically invested you have been in your ideas and hopes about the future will likely determine how well you adapt to ignoring those kinds of thoughts as they arise. You may also find a stronger habit in present awareness begin to prevail.

And if your own legacy project entailed a lot of stress and strain in hopes of building (or maintaining) a name for yourself, you may even find great relief and freedom in the irrelevance of those thoughts and their incumbent efforts. You may be released from both the legacy project for the future and a similar project in the present, one that I call “The Me Project,” which is dedicated to self-importance and is in particular vogue among social media addicts.

You may also feel that you are losing the past as well. In this time of The Great Dying, it may seem for you, as it does for me, that reminders of former times become hauntings of all that has been lost forever.

 The contrast of how things felt then to how things feel now can be unbearable. I notice that I eschew watching documentaries of the Sixties and Seventies, an era in which I came of age, when hope and every imaginable kind of freedom were our daily fare, represented in our music, our political activism, and in an almost shimmering joy in the atmosphere.

We would “change the world, rearrange the world,” as Graham Nash wrote in the lyrics of his protest song “Chicago” in 1971. Now, I have to be careful about even hearing the music from those halcyon days.

Long ago, a friend who had spent two years in a federal prison for growing marijuana told me that the most difficult time of each month was when his wife and young children made the drive of many hours to visit him.

He would end up depressed for days after their visits, having entered for those moments the living reminder of the colorful world, far from the ashen walls of his own. But at least in his case at that time, the other world was one to which he could eventually return or could imagine his children would go on enjoying.

Of course, letting go of both the future and the past doesn’t mean your life-affirming acts in present time are irrelevant. Pulitzer Prize winner and U.S. Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin wrote: “On the last day of the world, I would want to plant a tree.” It is the purest kind of offering, one that has no possibility of future reward. We, too, can make our final acts on earth a testament to the human capacity for mercy, a living bow to our highest good—for its own sake–even though it will not save the day.

NO BLAME

You may feel fury at times in seeing the desecration of the natural world and in realizing its destruction is due to human activity on the planet.  It seems tragically unfair that one species could cause the elimination of almost all the others.  The rate of extinction is now about 1,000 times faster than before humans arrived. It is natural to want to load the blame somewhere. 

We want to have a first cause onto which we can displace our anger and have a sense of control.  “If only we hadn’t developed agriculture” (which allowed for long term food storage and overpopulation)  “If only the world had been run by matriarchies,”  “If only we had a bottom-up economic system.”  “If only we had all learned to meditate.”; If only.

In a recent blog post, writer James Kunstler proposed a pithy theory of why humans chose each step of our path in history: “It just seemed a good idea at the time.”  We plunged forward with each new way of doing things, each new invention, because it made life easier at the time.

There was no intention to destroy ourselves. On the contrary, for most of the time since the Industrial Revolution, it seemed that life was getting better for greater numbers of people.  With medical advances, we wiped out most of the contagious deadly diseases, controlled infections, and greatly extended life expectancy.  We built transportation capabilities that allowed us to travel to the far ends of the earth in a day and thereby learn of other cultures while on their own turf.

And then we hooked ourselves up to each other in a world of instantaneous communication, which has been a whole lot of fun.  But we didn’t factor in the cost of all this bounty as we built modern civilization.

We didn’t understand that running the world on fossil fuels that were needed for our machinery—our cars, planes, cargo ships, tankers, electric grids, and just about everything—would someday do us in.  Nearly all of us went along on the ride and enjoyed the benefits, and now the party’s over and the bill has come due.  But where can we lay blame?

As theoretical physicist Peter Russell mused in a podcast conversation with me in 2016,

“What if we saw ourselves as a cosmic flame blooming in the universe and coming to its natural end?”

What if we forgave everybody everything?

GRIEF

We grieve because we love. To the degree that your heart is shattered over loss is precisely the degree to which you loved that which has gone. We know that coming to terms with one’s own personal death or the death of a loved one can lead to acceptance, Kubler-Ross’s final stage of grief. There are countless examples of that final reckoning in which a dying person lets go of the last threads that tether him or her to this world–and dies at peace.

I personally know dozens of people who have passed in this way. And we also know of many cases where people have managed to accept the death of a loved one and move on in their own lives, often with greater appreciation for those who are still here.

However, witnessing the death of all of life, even though there may be acceptance of the fact of it and even though one may no longer blame anyone or anything, comes with a different kind of grief. It is depressing on a scale that is unique to our time.

Even as a child, I felt that the most horrifying movies were the ones about the end of all life on the planet.

Now those images are playing in our heads as a real possibility, and people are feeling beaten down by them. All the world over, there are waves of distress, anxiety, and depression, which are based on circumstance and not merely on brain chemistry gone awry. Distress, anxiety, and depression are appropriate responses in facing the threat of full extinction.

No matter how clear and rational our understanding of the situation, many of my extinction-aware friends admit that the magnitude of the loss we are undergoing is unacceptable to the innermost psyche. It might be akin to a parent losing a young child. Even when there was no one to blame and no story of “if only,” the sorrow can rarely be fully overcome. Only this time, it is all the little children. All the animals. All the plants. All the ice.

Many of us are also in anticipatory grief; that is, in the period leading to full extinction, we are aware of how hard it will be for those who are already living marginally, such as the nearly one billion people who are now under nourished and who must search for food each day. These numbers will increase and food and fresh water will become impossible to find. Even here in a rich country, I know many people who live month to month, barely making the rent, foregoing all but the most basic necessities.

They are considered the poor in our First World countries, and they are also growing in number. In the United States alone, many of those who were formerly middle class now live in their cars or in homeless shelters or on the streets.

Even those in situations of abundance are often relying on jobs that are destined to disappear or on bank accounts and investments that will likely disappear as well. After all, much of the so-called wealth of the privileged is simply numerical digits floating on cyber screens. Those numbers changed in a single day during the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. One day a portfolio balance flickered one number on the screen; the next day it flickered a number that was far less.

You may begin to experience anticipatory grief for everyone—the animals, the young, the poor, the newly poor, the middle class, the rich, and, most of all, your own loved ones. Few people are even minimally prepared, emotionally or physically, for what is coming, perhaps especially those who are most privileged.

A friend told me the following story: his father was a survivor of one of the Nazi concentration camps. He said that the people who had the best chance of survival in the camps were the ones who had come from poverty and hardship in their lives before the camps. Those who had come from privilege were the first to die.

I am aware that virtually no one in my family and few of my friends are either ready to hear this information now or will be prepared to face what is ahead in time. It is pointless to try to warn them if they are not ready.

My attempts at hinting usually lead to blank stares or agitation. I have come to accept that for some people, their fate is to continue the romp of life, oblivious to the dangers ahead. Maybe it is best that they enjoy whatever good times are left, even though there might be extreme panic in the last phase.

Maybe it is just as well that they continue as they have been for as long as possible.

Maybe it will postpone chaos and lawlessness the world over until the systems fully crash. But for those of us who cannot look away, we carry the anticipatory grief for those who cannot bear to look.

Award-winning climate journalist Dahr Jamail (whose articles on Truthout.org are the most comprehensive overviews and compilations on various forms of climate disruption that I have come across) knows well the process of grief in watching earth changes before his very eyes.

A long time mountain climber, he has observed the permanent retreat of countless glaciers in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, and elsewhere, having known those regions when the glaciers were still in full.
In the final chapter of his excellent book The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Destruction,” he writes: “Each time another scientific study is released showing yet another acceleration of the loss of ice atop the Arctic Ocean, or sea level rise projections are stepped up yet again, or news of another species that has gone extinct is announced, my heart breaks for what we have done and are doing to the planet.

I grieve, yet this ongoing process has become more like peeling back the layers of an onion—there is always more work to do, as the crisis we have created for ourselves continues to unfold.  And somewhere along the line I surrendered my attachment to any results that might stem from my work.  I am hope-free.”

I recently interviewed Dahr on the question of hope with regard to the many non-harmful or natural geo-engineering projects of mitigation and drawdown of carbon that are underway, unlike the aforementioned scary ones.

 These include planting trees, enriching soil, using particular forms of effective seaweed for carbon capture, solar farms, onshore wind turbines, plant-rich diets, and educating girls (educated girls have fewer babies), to name a few. But Dahr is wary about the timeline of these proposals.

“Hope is about the future and gives us a sense that we have more time when, in fact, we are out of time. I think it is awesome that people are doing things to mitigate the damage as it is the right thing to do.

Some of us feel morally obliged to take action in those ways. On the other hand, when you look at the amount of carbon that needs to be drawn down and how fast that has to happen, it is a physical impossibility to scale that to the level we would need.

“Take, for instance, wide-scale rejuvenation of soil. If every farmer were incentivized and mandated to incorporate practices that would rejuvenate soil at world scale and we coupled that with wide-scale tree planting—of course, all of these things take time–at least we would have set in motion some actions that might still help.

What makes natural geo-engineering, soil sequestration, planting trees, and so on impossible for actually turning the tide on this is that there is a near total lack of political will to mandate any of it. If all of a sudden we could replace the horrible governments with functional ones that represented what we now need and if that is where all the funding went, yeah, it might actually make a dent in mitigation.

But the reality is that there is not one country that I know of doing everything it can in that direction.

 Certainly none of the major emitters–Russia, the US, China, and India–are doing anything of significance; all four are just stomping on the gas. There is nothing to indicate that a change of course will happen. Nothing. Not now. Not next year. Not in ten years. So the lack of political will is going to negate any and all natural geo-engineering efforts.

“Nevertheless, we are still obliged to do what we can in our own ways, even if there is no chance for long-term mitigation. I was talking with a friend before I finished my book, and I said to him, ‘Why even write this book?’ And my friend said, “You know, Dahr, if the total outcome of your book buys one little organism in the Amazon one more week of life, then it is completely worth it.’”

Yet, we are often told that we cannot carry on without hope for at least a someday outcome. Because our western cultures, particularly those in America, are fixated on an almost childish adherence to hope, they celebrate old clichés such as, “You gotta have hope,” “Don’t lose hope, ”Keep hope alive.”

Politicians and CEOs get elected with such slogans. Activists get funds for their projects and ideas even though they are five decades too late. And religious and new age thought leaders make millions peddling spiritual hopium, self-induced intoxication that ignores reality and offers an illusion of control or escape. True, there are times and places for hope when it is possible to change a course that can be changed.

 But clinging to hope when there is no longer anything to be done, when the course cannot be changed, makes hope itself a burden. One is forced into internal pretense, deeper denial. For people who have limited capacity for denial, and I suspect that if you have read this far you are one of those, maintaining hope becomes impossible. It is a surprising relief to let go of it.

However, you may then experience the brunt force of sorrow. Grief, straight up. It may sneak into your dreams. It may come in ordinary moments such as smelling the spray of an orange; or when a child whom you love says the words, “When I grow up…” It may come when you observe greed, ignorance, and cruelty, as these are reminders of why the world is dying. Sometimes you may feel you could cry and never stop crying.

To stay steady, you may be forced into a witnessing presence, vast enough to contain your grief. You may acclimate to living with grief without the assumption that it should or will dissipate. Despite this or because of it, you may notice a growing tendency to appreciate simple moments of connection and many small joys. And you may feel more awake than you have for a long time.

Living with the grief of facing human extinction may be akin to how a person with a terminal diagnosis might experience his or her final phase, the awareness of death undeniable, and the magnificence of life ever more obvious.

LOVE

So come my friends, be not afraid
We are so lightly here
It is in love that we are made
In love, we disappear
—Leonard Cohen
“Boogie Street”
What else is there to do now? Here we are, some of the last humans who will experience this beautiful planet since Homo sapiens began their journey some 200,000 years ago. Now, in facing extinction of our species, you may wonder if there is any point in going on. If your future projects make no sense any more, if you feel it is unwise to have children, and that things are going to get really hard and bad, you may not want to bother living any longer. Yet, there are other ways to use your attention that make life still relevant and even beautiful.

For nearly thirty years I have led public sessions and silent retreats around the world. In those gatherings, I encourage people to manage their own attention by moving it into present awareness, gratitude, and an immersion in the senses. However you are using your attention in any given moment is conditioning the experience you are having in that moment. We live in a time when managing our attention will be all the more necessary to stay calm and to allow us to enjoy and be helpful in whatever time is left.

Directing attention is a facility that becomes habitual with time. Left to its own conditioned patterns, our minds get into all kinds of trouble (unless one was very lucky in one’s conditioning, which is rare). Developing the habit of re-directing your awareness when your mind is lost in fear or troubling stories induces confidence along the way. Your attention starts to incline toward ease more frequently. You find that you can choose calm. You can choose gratitude.
You can choose love.

Jonathan Franzen, winner of the National Book Award and many other literary honors, writes in his latest book The End of the End of the Earth:  “Even in a world of dying, new loves continue to be born.”  This is now the time to give yourself over to what you love, perhaps in new and deeper ways.

Your family and friends, your animal friends, the plants around you, even if that means just the little sprouts that push their way through the sidewalk in your city, the feeling of a breeze on your skin, the taste of food, the refreshment of water, or the thousands of little things that make up your world and which are your own unique treasures and pleasures.  Make your moments sparkle within the experience of your own senses, and direct your attention to anything that gladdens your heart. Live your bucket list now.

There are also some simple thought reflections and actions that might be helpful:

Find your community (or create one). People are beginning to wake up and speak about this all over the world. Extinction Rebellion, which began in the U.K., now has gatherings in many cities of Europe, North America, and Australia. They may be able to connect you with people in your area.

There are also several online extinction-aware groups. You may want to start discussions in your own home with friends and neighbors. People have been thinking about these matters and discussing issues such as community gardens, water, and safety—and there is a lot of online information along those lines.

The kids are striking for climate justice by not attending school, inspired by the young Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who has just been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Having community around you is important both for mental wellbeing and for what Jem Bendell covers in his online paper, Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Strategy. Take a look also at Dahr Jamail’s blog posts on Truthout.org where you will find dozens of up-to-date climate articles as well as his new blog series (co-written with Barbara Cecil) called “How Then Shall We Live?”

Find your calm. In addition to wisely directing your attention,include also whatever daily activities induce greater calm in your life–walking in nature, a slow meal with loved ones or on your own, reading or listening to music, dancing, swimming–whatever your thing is, give priority to it every day. Your relaxation and calm is not an indulgence but rather a tune up for your mental and physical wellbeing, which leads to a more awake and responsive intelligence.

Release dark visions of the future, and pace your intake of climate news. Although frightening pictures about what is to come in the future may arise in your imagination, it is best not to entertain them.

It is also helpful to pace yourself in reading or watching news of climate chaos. There is a tendency, once climate catastrophe grabs the attention, to keep staring at fresh news of it as though transfixed by a plane crash in real time. Resist being constantly immersed in the increasing data of the chaos.

Have a fast from the news as needed, and rest your weary mind. My friend Dahr periodically unplugs and walks in mountains; my friend Mark unplugs and works for hours in his garden. They are both keenly aware of unfolding climate realities, with the inevitable sadness that comes with that awareness. Yet both have learned to manage and enjoy the precious time that is left, living by a Navaho ethos: “May you walk in beauty.”

Be of service. Know that whatever is to be in the future, it will feel good to be of service in whatever ways your gifts can be used and on any scale that feels right and true, whether in your personal life of family and friends or in a larger community.  There is no need to keep accounts of whether your actions will someday pay off.  Being of service feels good for its own sake and gives your life meaning, a sense that you are being well used, like good compost in the field of life.

Be grateful.  Longevity was never a guarantee for anyone at any time of history.  Whatever time is left to us, we are the lucky ones.  We got to experience life, despite the overwhelming odds of that not being the case, as biologist Richard Dawkins often points out.  When we think of all the times our ancestors had to thread the needle of survival and live long enough to procreate, every single lifetime, it puts into perspective how precious is this experience we are having. Gratitude for life itself becomes the appropriate response.  Direct your awareness many times throughout the day to all the little things for which you are grateful.  It is an open secret for inducing a calmer mind.

Give up the fight with evolution. It wins. The story about a human misstep in history, the imaginary point at which we could have taken a different route, is a pointless mental exercise. Our evolution is based on quintillions of earth motions, incremental biological adaptations, survival necessities, and human desires. We are right where we were headed all along.



Despite our having caused so much destruction, it is important to also consider the wide spectrum of possibilities that make up a human life. Yes, on one end of that spectrum is greed, cruelty, and ignorance; on the other end is kindness, compassion, and wisdom. We are imbued with great creativity, brilliant communication, and extraordinary appreciation of and talent for music and other forms of art.

We cry in tenderness when we are touched by love, beauty, or loss. We cry in empathy for others’ pain. Some of us even sacrifice our lives for strangers. There is no other known creature whose spectrum of consciousness is as wide and varied as our own.

You likely know well the spectrum of human consciousness within yourself. Perhaps you have had many moments when greed or hatred overtook your mind. But it is likely you have also had many moments when you knew that love was all that ever really mattered. And in your final breaths it is likely to be all that is left of you, a cosmic story whispered only once.

As Leonard said, “It is in love that we are made; in love we disappear.”
—Catherine Ingram
First published in February 2019
NSW, Australia
(updated June 2019)

Acknowledgements

As in everything I do, “I get by with a little help from my friends.” I am profoundly grateful to:
Leonard Cohen for the blazing tree-of-life image, a gift he created for me in 2002 as a possible cover for my book Passionate Presence.  The publisher decided not to use it for that book, but I think Leonard would have approved of it being used for this purpose instead.
Shayla Oates and Annika Korsgaard for research and citations
Richard Cohen for incisive line editing and keen literary eye
Steve Marvel for website mastery
Anna Crichton for the illustration of the endangered tuataras of New Zealand: www.annacrichton.com
Alex Mankiewicz for use of the bamboo forest photo: @alexmango1
Mark Oates, Michael Shaw, Dahr Jamail, Justin Golden, Alan Clements, Geneen Roth, Juliette Prentiss, Steven Ruddell, and Mark Joiner, for support, encouragement, and/or notes.

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