The Great Unravelling

SUBHEAD: Part of a discussion series on adapting to the environmental crises we have created.

By Asher Miller on 28 October 2020 for the Post Carbon 
(https://www.postcarbon.org/is-the-great-unraveling-upon-us/)



Image above: Firefighters conduct a back-burn operation along Route CA-168 during the Creek fire as it approaches the Shaver Lake Marina on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. Photo by Kent Nishimura for The Los Angeles Times. From (https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-09-27/times-photos-california-fires).

Introducing “The Great Unraveling?”, a series of interviews with some of the world’s foremost experts on a broad range of environmental and societal challenges, culminating with a powerful discussion on what these converging and accelerating crises mean, and how we can respond.

What if we don’t look back on 2020 as the year from hell, a painful and surreal slip on the otherwise generally smooth path of progress? What if, instead, we look back in five or ten or twenty years to 2020 as the moment when everything started to really and truly unravel?

Of course, what I’ve presented is a false choice. The truth is that for billions of people (and other species!) the unraveling has been occurring for a long time, assuming they had anything that could be unravelled to begin with.

People who have been left behind or churned up by the relentless machine of exploitative capitalism. People and natural ecosystems already on the frontline of the climate crisis. Communities that have lost their social cohesion and ability to confront problems collectively.

2020 has exposed and supercharged the fragility, unsustainability, and injustice of so many of our global systems:
  • untenable economic and racial inequality;
  • brittle, globalized supply chains controlled by a relatively small number of corporations;
  • a global climate system that’s already fevered at 1.2ºC warming;
  • growing political instability, distrust, and the rise of authoritarian governments;
  • the collapse of biodiversity and the crossing of other planetary boundaries;
  • an economy dependent on growth, consumption, debt, energy, & population;
  • the failure of governmental institutions to respond to, let alone anticipate, crises;
  • the likely peak in the amount of energy available to power modern society.
These crises were already here or looming long before the coronavirus pandemic hit us broadside this year. In fact, my colleagues at Post Carbon Institute, the many writers who we have featured here at resilience.org, and allies across the globe have been sounding the alarm for decades that the Great Acceleration would inevitably lead to a Great Unraveling or even collapse. That forewarning may now be moot.

To begin considering how to navigate the “Great Unraveling,” we must first try to understand how various environmental and social systems may interact. So a few months ago, Post Carbon Institute and Anthropocene Actions asked some of the world’s foremost experts to share their views of where things stand with some of our most pressing environmental and societal challenges, particularly in the wake of the pandemic.

We then hosted a powerful discussion with an esteemed, diverse panel on what these converging and accelerating crises mean, and how we can respond.

Facing up to these interconnected crises requires unprecedented cooperation and coordination, if we have any hope of creating a sustainable, equitable, and resilient world. To this end, campaigners, politicians, companies, governments, and communities all across the world are pushing for and enacting change. 

But these efforts will have to remain robust, flexible, and resilient in the face of growing destabilization. And they must be grounded in an understanding of the systemic nature of the predicament we face.

The wrenching disruption of the pandemic presents barriers to change, as shown by those seeking to reinforce the pre-pandemic status quo. But this historic moment also presents opportunities to move toward a sustainable society that benefits all. The key to a better future is to learn how to manage the compounding crises of a more destabilized future – how to navigate the Great Unraveling. 

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Winning the Trifecta

SUBHEAD: To win we will have to solve all our problems together... health, wealth and environment.

By Juan Wilson on 24 June 2020 for Island Breath -
(https://islandbreath.blogspot.com/2020/06/winning-trifecta.html)


Image above: An urban street in America after a major collapse. From (https://www.masktactical.com/urban-survival-series-part-1/).

A trifecta is a certain kind of bet in a horse race. The better makes a great deal of money if he wins, but the chances are slim. The better must not only win on picking the first place finisher of the race, but also the second and third place winners.

We humans have to win against a trifecta of disasters that we have brought unto ourselves by greed, complacency and ignorance.

We have known for  more than three generations that the jig was up. We realized humans were destroying the Earth that is our only home. Its was 1970 (50 years ago) that President Richard Nixon, a conservative Republican, who signed into law the US Environmental Protection Agency.

There were high hopes that some remedy to our environmental plight might be found. It wasn't found and it wasn't in our short term interest to do so.  We avoided finding a way to save the Earth and the creatures that inhabit it because it wasn't as profitable or as comfortable as continuing on  burning up the planet for profit and comfort. 

Well, now we will have to win a trifecta to survive and flourish any longer. We face three implacable dangers that are intertwined.
  • Economic Collapse
  • Environmental Collapse
  • Worldwide Fatal Pandemic
The financial collapse is from over-borrowing against the future to continue economic growth as the means of creating wealth.

The environmental collapse is a result of supplying and utilizing the resources for the energy and resources for ever growing economic growth.

In my mind the worldwide fatal pandemic is a correction by Gaia (Mother Nature) for the financial and environmental collapse we have created. Mother Nature is shaking off her blood sucking tics.

There is little time or the will among us to change our ways... but for those that survive the 2020's it will because they have embraced small scale locally resourced food and fabrication. Those survivors will be using hand tools and sailboats rather than tractors and container ships to operate their steady state economy.

As we have been recommending for years... get a head start! As John Michael Greer wrote in 2012 "Collapse Now and Avoid the Rush!". That means getting educated to the situation and acting on it right now. 

If you are a newby to these thoughts you will have to work overtime to catch up. As James Howard Kunstler envisioned in his Would Made By Hand novels, most middle class suburbanites like car salesmen and insurance men will be lucky if they end up living on a productive plantation doing manual labor. 

Manual skills, whether making a barrel, playing a violin, or stitching up a wound, will have real and lasting value in the future. 

As things stand now, I have no clue how long we will have a "world wide web" to go to in the future. Right now we an count on it to inform us the answer to all the questions that we have. 

Once it is unreliable or down we will have only the hard copy left in the schools the libraries or your bookshelves for reference. You might try finding an Encyclopedia set that's been abandoned by your local library or at a local garage sale.


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Re-opening won't fix our economy

SUBHEAD: Our national economy is too fragile, brittle, bankrupt, corrupt and hopelessly perverse.

By Charles Hugh Smith on 26 May 2020 for Of Two Minds -
(http://charleshughsmith.blogspot.com/2020/05/re-opening-economy-wont-fix-whats-broken.html)


Image above: Illustration of the ruins of Las Vegas with the Bellagio Casino in the left foreground and Caesar's Palace to the right for the story "Underneath Us" by Alex TIllson. From (http://alextillson.com/writing/underneath-us/).

The stock market is in a frenzy of euphoria at the re-opening of the economy. Too bad the re-opening won't fix what's broken. As I've been noting recently, the real problem is the systemic fragility of the U.S. economy, which has lurched from one new extreme to the next to maintain a thin, brittle veneer of normalcy.

Fragile economies cannot survive any impact with reality that disrupts the distortions that are keeping the illusion of "growth" from shattering. 

For the past two decades, every collision with reality cracked the illusion, and the "fix" was to duct-tape the pieces together with new extremes of money-creation, debt, risk and speculative excess.

While the stock market has soared, the real world falls apart. If your region needs a new bridge built, count on about 20 years to get all the "stakeholders" to agree and get the thing actually built. 

Count on the cost quintupling from $500 million to $2.5 billion. Count on corners being cut as costs skyrocket, so those cheap steel bolts from China that are already rusting before the bridge is even finished? Oops. Replacing them will add millions to the already bloated budget.

Want to add a passenger stop on an existing railroad line? Count on 20 years to get it done.

The complexity thicket of every regulatory agency with the power to say "no" basically guarantees the project will never get approved, because every one of these bureaucracies justifies its existence by saying "no." Sorry, you need another study, another environmental review, and so on.

Need a new landfill? I hope you started the process 15 years ago, so you'll get approval in only five more years. Every agency with the power to say "no" will stretch out the approval, so they have guaranteed "work" for another decade or two.

Did your subway fares double? Was the excuse repairing a crumbling system? Did the work get done on budget and on time? You must be joking, right? All the fare increase did was cover the costs of skyrocketing salaries, pensions and administrative costs. Repairs to the tracks and cars-- that's extra. 

Let's float a $1 billion bond so nobody have to tighten their belts, and have riders pay for it indirectly, through higher taxes to pay the exorbitant costs of 20 years of interest on the bond.

Have you been thrown off your bicycle by the giant potholes in the city's "bike lanes"? The city reluctantly admits that these streets that haven't been maintained for decades--yes, decades. 

The city once paid for street maintenance out of its general budget, but alas, that's been eaten up by skyrocketing salaries, pensions and administrative costs, so now we need to float $100 million bond to fund filling potholes.

If all goes according to plan (ha-ha), we should be able to re-pave the streets that have been crumbling for 20 years in... the next 20 years.

These real-world examples are just four of thousands of manifestations of a broken system. Rather than make tough choices that drain power and wealth from vested interests, we simply borrow more money, in ever increasing amounts, to keep the entrenched interests and elites happy.

There are two "solutions" in the status quo: dump the debt on taxpayers or on powerless debt-serfs--for example, college students. (See chart below of the $1.6 trillion that's stripmining student debt-serfs.)

Who benefits from selling all the municipal bonds, bundled student loans, etc. to investors starving for a yield above 0.1%? Wall Street, of course.

The problem is that while debt has soared, productivity and earned income have stagnated. The statistical narrative has been ruthlessly gamed to hide the erosion of living standards, but even with the bogus "low inflation" of official statistics, wages for the bottom 95% have stagnated for decades.

Measures of productivity have also been gamed to mask the ugly reality that the vast majority of the U.S. economy is stagnating under the weight of interest payments on debt, mal-investments in speculative gambles, higher junk fees and taxes, crushing regulatory compliance, high costs imposed by monopolies and cartels and a well-cloaked decline in the quality of just about everything the bottom 95% uses or owns.

What little productivity gains have been made have been skimmed by the top 5%. Coupled with the Federal Reserve's single-minded goosing of the one signaling device it controls, the stock market, the top 0.1% in America own more wealth than the bottom 80%.

If productivity stagnates and winners take all, the wages of the bottom 95% cannot rise. Real wealth is only created by increases in the productivity of labor and capital; everything else is phantom wealth.

The only way stagnant incomes can support more debt is if interest rates decline. Presto, the Fed dropped interest rates to near-zero a decade ago. 

Of course you and I can't actually borrow millions for 0.1%; that privilege is reserved for financiers and other financial parasites and predators.

Debt-serfs were able to refinance their crushing mortgages to save a few bucks, and so they can afford to 1) take on more debt and 2) pay higher taxes to fund the ballooning public debt.

Every one of these extremes has increased the systemic fragility of the American economy. This fragility is reflected in the impoverishment of the bottom 95%, the thin line between solvency and bankruptcy, the decay of public trust in institutions run for the benefit of entrenched interests, and the quickening erosion of America's social contract.

Re-opening a fragile, brittle, bankrupt, hopelessly perverse and corrupt "normal" won't fix what's broken.
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When Giants Fall

SUBHEAD: If you think Walmart will survive what’s killing other retail generally, you’re wrong.

By James Kunstler on 22 May 2020 for Kunstler.com -
(https://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/when-giants-fall/)


Image above: "Wal*Mart" pun art by Mark Tichenor. From (https://www.redhen.ca/mal_wart.htm).

It was only a few decades ago that Walmart entered the pantheon of American icons, joining motherhood, apple pie, and baseball on the highest tier of the altar.

The people were entranced by this behemoth cornucopia of unbelievably cheap stuff packaged in gargantuan quantities. It was something like their participation trophy for the sheer luck of being born in this exceptional land, or having valiantly clawed their way in from wretched places near and far — where, increasingly, the mighty stream of magically cheap stuff was manufactured.

The evolving psychology of Walmart-ism had a strangely self-destructive aura about it. Like cargo cultists waiting on a jungle mountaintop, small town Americans prayed and importuned the gods of commerce to bring them a Walmart.

Historians of the future, pan-frying ‘possum cutlets over their campfires, will marvel at the potency of their ancestors’ prayers.

Every little burg in the USA eventually saw a Walmart UFO land in the cornfield or cow-pasture on the edge of town. Like the space invaders of sci-fi filmdom, Walmart quickly killed off everything else of economic worth around it, and eventually the towns themselves.

And that was where things stood as the long emergency commenced in the winter of early 2020, along with the Covid-19 corona virus riding shotgun on the hearse-wagon it rolled in on.

We’re in a liminal, transitional moment of history, like beach-goers gawking at the glassy-green curve of a great wave in the throes of breaking. Such mesmerizing beauty!

Alas, most people can’t surf. It looks easy on TV, but you’d be surprised at the conditioning it takes, and Americans are way, way out of condition. (All those tattoos don’t give you an ounce of extra mojo.)

And so, in this liminal moment, the people still trudge dutifully to the Walmarts with their dwindling reserves of cash money to get stuff, going through all the devotions that we took for granted before the wave welled up and threatened to break over us.

Which is happening. Despite all the fake-heroic blather from the Federal Reserve, from Nancy Pelosi, from Mr. Trump and Mr. Mnuchin — from everybody in charge, to be really fair — and in the immortal words of another recent president — this sucker is going down. Specifically, what’s going down is the aggregate of transactions we call “the economy.”

Meanwhile, the people in charge struggle to prop up the mere financial indexes that supposedly represent economic activity, but more and more just look like a shadow play on the wall of some special slum where the street-corner economists peddle their crack. 

Eventually, the people don’t even have money for the crack, and to make matters worse, whatever money actually remains on the street is worthless.

The wave is breaking now, and a lot of things will be smashed under it — are getting smashed as you read. As in any extinction event, it will be the smaller organisms that survive and eventually thrive and that’s how it will go in the next edition of America, whether we remain states united or find ourselves organized differently.

Accordingly, the giants must fall. When the communities of America rebuild, it will be the thousands of small activities that matter, because they will entail the rebuilding of social capital as well as exchanges that amount to business. 

Social capital is exactly what Walmart and things like it killed in every community from sea to shining sea. People stopped doing business with their neighbors. It took a cataclysm for them to finally notice.

If you think Walmart will survive the same cataclysm that’s killing chain-store retail generally, you’re going to be disappointed.

Everything about it is over and done, including the Happy Motoring adjunct that allowed the cargo-cultists to haul their booty those many miles home. (And, ironically, it wasn’t the oil issue that determined this, but the end of the financing system that allowed Americans to buy their cars on installment loans, when it ran out of credit-worthy borrowers.)

Amazon will be the last giant standing perhaps, but it will go down, too, eventually, on its ridiculous business model, which depends utterly on a doomed trucking system. It will be like the last dinosaur roaring at the dimming sun — while the little proto-mammals skitter to their hidey-holes beneath it.

One thing remains constant: human beings are very adept and resourceful at supplying each other’s needs, which is what business amounts to. Young people, freed from the fate of becoming serfs to corporate giants, can start right now at least imagining what they can do to be useful to others in exchange for a livelihood.

The earnest and energetic will find a way to do that at a scale that makes sense when a new order emerges from the wreckage. After a while, it won’t matter much what any government thinks about it, either. 

Like all the other giants, it will fall, too.
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Dance Macabre

SUBHEAD: Hundreds of kinds of services no longer have customers who can afford their offerings.

By James Kunstler on 18 May 2020 for Kunstler.com
(https://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/dance-macabre/)


Image above: Painting from the 16th or 17th century illustrating the "Dance Macabre". From (https://www.ancient-origins.net/news-history-archaeology/dance-macabre-how-dead-danced-living-medieval-society-009063).

Western Civ’s most infamous encounter with pandemic disease, so far, was the big first wave of the Black Death that had a marathon run from 1346 to 1353. That bug was the real deal. It killed folks left and right, every age group, every social station, and it killed them ugly.

Few who caught it survived. Up to half the population of Europe perished, along with a lot of their social and economic ways.

The cause of the Black Death was subject to every possible explanation except the actual one, Yersina pestis, a bacterium associated with rats and their insect parasites, fleas and lice, who also enjoyed an association with humans living in the generally squalid conditions of the day — the ancient Roman habit of bathing long forgotten.

At the top of their list of causes was an angry God, and his wicked erstwhile subordinate, Satan.

The “experts” of that time tended to cluster in the church hierarchy, with its drear obsessions and compulsions. The squishy boundary between the supernatural and reality loosed all manner of derangement.

The Jews came in for much vilification, leading to massacres in Strasbourg, Mainz, and Cologne. On the whole, the episode represented a terrific humbling of humanity. The allegory of the Dance Macabre summed it up in mankind’s universal antic journey to the Palookaville of death.

On the plus side, as modern interpolators might say, the bubonic plague winnowed down Europe’s population to a scale more congenial with its resource base. After that big first wave of the disease, land was cheaper and human labor better rewarded.

Eventually, more food got around. Incidentally, the plague provoked nostalgia for the classical antiquity of Greece and Rome, especially among the scholars of Florence, launching the extravaganzas of the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and eventually our own pageant of techno-supremacist Modernity.

Covid-19 seems rather a punk-ass illness compared to the Black Death. Its victims by far are people already on a fast track to the last roundup. We know exactly what causes it, if not so exactly its origin, and yet the response among our experts has been far more ambiguous than those long-ago bishops of Christendom to the Great Plague.

The various scientists, physicians, public health officers, and politicians seem, to the casual observer, about equally divided between those who consider the corona virus a grave threat and those who insist it’s hardly worse than any annual flu. What is one to believe? Or do?

Which brings us to the verge of the Great Opening-up. The current nostalgia for pre-Covid-19 business-as-usual is understandably intense.

Gone especially from daily life are all the ceremonies of human togetherness, from gatherings of friends to the casual shoulder-rubbings of urban life to the crowded venues of the lively arts to the great moiling orgies of pro sports.

The life of the perpetual jigsaw puzzle, YouTube, and Netflix has proved inadequate to human aspiration. Gone, too, are livelihoods, revenue streams, and rewarding roles in everyday existence. The itch to get out and do, get out and make, get out and be, is overwhelming.

Behind those plain yearnings, though, looms the specter of a system that appeared to be already foundering before Covid-19 entered the scene. There is, at least, considerable agreement that the disease catalyzed the disorders of finance and economy and accelerated the damage — just not among the people most responsible for engineering the fragilities that actually crashed things.

Jerome Powell, Pope of the Church of the Federal Reserve, went on the 60-Minutes show Sunday night to reassure the nation that things will eventually get back to normal. “I think you’ll see the economy recover steadily through the second half of this year.”

Yessir, if you say so. Were his fingers crossed? You couldn’t tell because the camera had him framed in a head-shot. Personally, I think the Fed Chairman was blowing smoke up the nation’s wazoo.

Spooky as it’s been, the Covid-19 virus has also been a great cover-story for the natural collapse of a severely unbalanced, ecologically unsound, and dishonestly represented set of arrangements that are now unspooling at horrifying speed.

The car industry is dying. The airline industry is laying out its fleet of big birds in desert graveyards. The college racketeering operation went off a cliff, along with medical profiteering. Agribusiness no longer has a business model.

Hundreds of kinds of services no longer have customers who can afford their offerings from acupuncture to zymurgy.

None of that will be fixed by injections of miracle money borrowed from ourselves in quantities that would turn every US citizen into a millionaire — if it wasn’t just pounded down the rat-holes of the stock and bond markets. The big question about the Great Opening-up is when the recognition of all that turns to raw emotion.

Covid-19 may still be with us then, but it will be the least of our problems.

The masks will come off. The dance will commence.
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'Planet of the Humans" review

SUBHEAD: The calls into question the solutions proposed by so-called renewable technologies.

By Edwardo Sasso 0n 7 May 2020 for Resilience - 
(https://www.resilience.org/stories/2020-05-07/planet-of-the-humans-reviewing-the-film-and-its-reviews/)


Image above: This immense photovoltaic power plant is operated by an Italian company in the desert near Villanueva, Mexico. From (https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/supersized-solar-farms-are-sprouting-around-world-maybe-space-too-ncna901666).

[IB Publisher's comment: In our experience in Hawaii solar-electricity generation does not necessarily require the use of large quantities of cement and steel. The panels themselves often have aluminum frames. In Hawaii we have a corrugated metal roof. Our solar panels have aluminum frames bolted to 2"x4" wood frames that are bolted to the metal roofing. Small scale individual residential and commercial solar systems don't need high voltage distribution towers or heavy duty foundations and framing. We worry about hurricane damage... but that's likely to take the whole roof off.]

If you haven’t seen the latest (and arguably the most contentious) documentary on renewable energy, be prepared for an aftertaste of mixed feelings.

Joining hands with the controversial Michael Moore, environmentalist and filmmaker Jeff Gibbs has sent an eerie message that is now somewhat dividing the climate movement—in many ways for the worse, but, in a few others, for the better.

So, at least, one could argue is the case of Planet of the Humans. After engaging briefly with some of the well-deserved criticisms the film has received thus far, there are nevertheless some important aspects brought to our attention by the movie.

Specifically, at one point in the documentary, Gibbs touches upon the religious and existential dimensions underlying our ecological hot waters—aspects that, for what it seems, many of his critics have left unaddressed. Hence the focus towards the end of this review will fall on the cosmic role of religion (or cosmology, if we will) in helping us engage with “the great scheme of things”, to use the phrase of one of the scholars interviewed in the documentary.

But first a sketch of the film and its criticism.

What is the Central Claim of Planet of the Humans?

Drawing implicitly on the legacy of renowned environmentalist Rachel Carson, in essence, Planet of the Humans calls into question the solutions proposed by so-called renewable technologies.

Such solutions, Gibbs argues, are to a degree or another an extension-in-disguise of the same problems created by our technological society. For one, solar panels and wind towers still burn fuels to be produced; for another, they rely on copious amounts of minerals and rare earth metals.

More worryingly, what Gibbs calls “the narrow solution of green technology” keeps feeding the pockets of a smaller few at the expense of the greater rest, leaving underlying societal problems unattended.

Overall, the documentary thus aims to show how the creation of these panels and towers, as well as the burning of biofuels and biomass, are also problematic, albeit in different ways if compared with the fossil fuels they aim to displace. Old wine in new wineskins, in short.

“Is it possible” thus asks Gibbs, “for machines made by industrial civilization to save us from industrial civilization?” (17:10)

Even if he argues for an unnerving “no”, some of the film’s reviewers are ready to claim the opposite.

(Well-Deserved) Hot-Blooded Reactions

To begin with, Gibbs’s critics are quick to signal how the film’s downplaying of renewables is outdated. The dismissal of solar panels (14:45, a scene whose panels arguably date from 2008), for instance, is done on the ground of their inefficiency.

However, as leading environmental activist Bill McKibben answers back, engineers have done their job since in vastly improving this technology, making solar the cheapest way of generating energy today.

According to McKibben, since a panel now lasts (up to) three decades—taking four years to compensate for the energy it took to build it—90 percent of the power it then produces is carbon-emissions-free.

Moreover, others point out how the overall impacts across the lifecycle (to mine materials, build, transport, install, and uninstall) both solar PVs and wind towers is between 3 and 28 times lower than using, say, liquified natural gas for electricity production (natural gas is one of the less polluting forms of fossil fuels).

The Guardian, too, implicitly takes sides with furious scientists calling to take down the movie—not least because fact-checks are revealing the film’s slim evidence to back up some claims.

Getting Rid of the Mud-water, but Keeping the Baby

Besides valid reasons like the above, what struck me as most troubling was the grim and rather accusatory tone of the documentary. It’s also (to a considerable extent) polarizing, at times dismissing perhaps too easily the honest intentions of some well-meaning folk. (Sad but true; especially in an age of ecological breakdown when we need to unite despite our differences.)

Still, could the film’s field-splitting call to choose sides, be the method to its madness? Could its polarizing stance somehow serve Gibb’s insistence to untangle the ecological cause from the story of unceasing economic growth—even of so-called ‘green’ economic growth—that continues to dictate the north of our industrialized societies?

Senior Fellow of the Post-Carbon Institute and author of Afterburn: Societies Beyond Fossil Fuels, Richard Heinberg, agrees with the filmmakers in admitting how the belief that with ‘green’ investments and political will we’ll ultimately be able to build a green future is “an illusion that deserves shattering.”

According to Heinberg,
“The only realistic way to make the transition in industrial countries like the US is to begin reducing overall energy usage substantially [solar-/wind-powered or otherwise], eventually running the economy on a quarter, a fifth, or maybe even a tenth of current energy.” 

Read: Renewables? To an extent, yes; but far beyond: lifestyle change, and cutbacks—something that some environmentalists shy away from championing, admittedly for the tactical communication purpose of not losing their audience.

And yet, as Heinberg notes, “it’s a mistake to let marketing consultants sort truth from fiction for us”—a chief reason why Planet of the Humans doesn’t have space for such bargaining.

Just Give Me (One More) Fact

On a similar vein, world-renowned Professor Emeritus of Community Planning at the University of British Columbia, William Rees, has recently shown the limitations of renewables and remains a pessimist facing what he labels as a “superficial support for the notion that green tech is our savior.”

To back his claim, Rees points out how building just one typical wind turbine requires 817 energy-intensive tonnes of steel, 2,270 tonnes of concrete, and 41 tonnes of non-recyclable plastic.

In turn, solar power also demands large quantities of cement, steel, and glass—let alone rare earth metals. Aside from their compromised mining and refining processes, world demand for such metals of so-called renewable energy would rise 300 percent to 1,000 percent by 2050 just to meet the Paris goals.

“Ironically,” Rees remarks, “the mining, transportation, refining and manufacturing of material inputs to the green energy solution would be powered mainly by fossil fuels.”

For all we’d like them to, towers and panels don’t simply drop from heaven. So, too, more or less argues the film.

Fact-checking and physical limitations aside, a deeper and more fundamental issue that Planet of the Humans unveils is that of the societal story that we continue to tell ourselves, in one shape or another—be it green, orange, right, left, or center.

And it’s the 300-year-old, now-taken-for-granted story of our increasingly urbanized, Techno-Industrial Age: namely, that we are the captains of our souls and the masters of our fates, and that we attain that fate through technology, production, and consumption.

In short, this societal narrative (including many ‘green’ versions of such narrative) has made us believe that we are above, front-and-center, while everything else is below, in the backstage.

Under this worldview, ‘nature’ is not a ‘Home’ but a ‘resource’; we are not earthly humans but technological ‘citizens’ (and now virtual ‘Internauts’); countries are not made of communities of earth-dwellers but of abstract ‘markets’ of X or Y number of ‘consumers’. And thus our very language betrays us.

Scholars call this ‘anthropocentrism’ blended with ‘economism’. Others label it ‘speciesism’ and ‘technopoly’, even as one corporation praised it by making us sing “You got the whole world in your hands, with Mastercard at your command.”

As materialist historian Yuval Noah Harari has shown in the sixteenth chapter of Sapiens, this story championed by today’s economic system has become so pervasive that it now has all the elements of religion—however secular its scope.

It tells us what to believe (economic growth will lead to the benefit of all), how to behave (rational and disciplined at the workplace, unrestrained and narcissistic at the shopping mall), and what to value (“Life is Now”, as Visa trumpeted rather conveniently, and dogmatically).

Hence to culture and religion we now turn—and to their characteristic interest in “the great scheme of things”.

Remixed Echoes of an Even-Older Story

In one of the most existential sections of the documentary (49:04), the director asks whether our inability to come to terms with our mortality misinforms most of our societal decisions. He also asks rhetorically whether his side (the environmental side) has an unspoken religion, even as the Right has Christianity and a belief in infinite fossil fuels.

I would nuance this second claim—at least pertaining to the so-called religion of (many) of the Right. And that because such a belief system is often in fact Deist. (Deism is a modern distortion of ancient Christianity, presenting us with a deity that’s detached from the world, which is then purportedly left for us to control as we discover and master its immutable laws.)

It is not my aim here to make a case for believing in a transcendental Agent, but simply to acknowledge how director Jeff Gibbs might be unknowingly inviting us to shed the same tears of the God testified to and experienced by the descendants of the ancient Hebrews.

In contrast to the absent deity of Deism, the sixth chapter of the Book of Genesis, for instance, speaks of the Most High becoming “regretful” considering the evil doings of humankind—something that “grieved God to his heart”.

According to the Book of Jeremiah, the Eternal One recoiled and was immersed in swirls of grief as people became strangers in their own land. In fact, in and through the cry of that young Hebrew prophet, God wept (Jer 14).

A Prophet in the Making?

haps, one of the film’s greatest contributions: its invitation to mourn, to leave us with discomfort towards superficial solutions, to invite us to feel and experience grief? However somberly and imperfectly, Gibbs may as well be helping us to traverse an unavoidable but ultimately necessary dark valley—one where we are reminded of how, before any blink of light, we must first confess and turn away from our pathological complicity with the decimation of our sacred Home. Genuine tears are the only cradle of authentic beginnings.

Even if commonly dismissed by large strands of the scientific and humanist communities in our scientific age, here lays one of the fundamental insights of what we call ‘religion’ or ‘spirituality’; namely, their ability to disclose the ultimate horizons that should inform and inspire our lives.

Such horizons have been barred by the smokescreens created by the Industrial Revolution, tempting us not to see anywhere beyond. (Who needs to pray for rain for crops when one is a click away from a Caesar’s salad or a Papa John’s pizza?)

For numerous reasons, for the past three centuries we’ve increasingly come to believe that there’s no ultimate purpose or ‘goal’ to life. Instead, all we’ve been left with is an unrestrained desire to impose our will upon others and upon the living world, as it’s now tragically evident. When ultimate purposes vanish out of sight, we strive to become gods.

Recovering Forgotten Horizon

Intentionally or not, the film’s sorrowful approach begins to dismantle this very ‘scheme of things’; one that has made us believe that we are alone, at the center, in control of an inert universe without ultimate meaning.

In contrast, the forgotten grand-view cracked open by ancient spiritual traditions summon us to acknowledge ourselves as guests in a world that precedes us and that is not our own. The spotlight falls elsewhere.

At least according to the Judeo-Christian tradition that now unspokenly undergirds pretty much all of today’s secularized Western cultures, we are mortal tenants and fragile earthlings; accountable, dependent, small. We are animated by sacred breath, even as we are made from the very dust to which we will return.

But, precisely as such, we are nevertheless invited into an extravagant feast hosted by the Ultimate Source of completeness, gladness, and joy—the very Source who also cries and grieves.

Is such plenitude the hidden treasure that we are most searching for today—left, right, or center? Far beyond any technical glitch that we can muster, isn’t such plenitude the very ‘something’ which we know in our bones to be ultimately missing?

Those, of course, are questions for another occasion. And they may seem trivial should we continue to dismiss the divine and the transcendental as sheer social constructions that our human ancestors invented back in yesteryear to soothe our consciousness.

But then we must ask, how far will the dogmas of Materialism continue to take us? As posed by one of the film’s social scientists: “If we’re to make progress (whatever that word means). . . we’re going to radically overhaul our basic conception of who and what we are and what it is that we value.”

Or to borrow the words from Albert Einstein:
“A human being is part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe’; a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. . . . Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Not unlike Einstein’s summons, Planet of the Humans is at least spot on about the need to turn away from our technocentric story and all its delusions that have claimed to give us full control. Then, and only then, will any light shine like the dawn. And perhaps then, and only then, will we humans realize ourselves as transient guests on a planet that is certainly not of our own making.

Our tears will not be in vain.
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Not a Cause but a Trigger

SUBHEAD: This corona virus pandemic may cause civilization to collapse for good reasons.

By Ugo Bardi on 16 April 2020 for Cassandra's Legacy -
(https://cassandralegacy.blogspot.com/2020/04/collapse-coronavirus-is-not-cause-it-is.html)


Image above: Illustration by Steven Castelluccia of economic collapse caused by pandemic a peak consumption. From original article.

Do you remember the story of the straw that broke the camel’s back? It is an illustration of how overloaded systems are sensitive to small perturbations. Could the COVID-19 epidemic be the straw that breaks the back of the world’s economy?

Like an overloaded camel, the world’s economy is strained by at least two tremendous burdens: one is the increasing costs of production of mineral resources (don’t be fooled by the current low prices of oil: prices are one thing, costs are another). Then, there is pollution, including climate change, also weighing on the economy.

These two factors define the condition called “overshoot,” occurring when an economic system is consuming more resources than nature can replace. Sooner or later, an economy in overshoot has to come to terms with reality. It means that it can’t continue to grow: it must decline.

These considerations can be quantified. It was done for the first time in 1972 with the famous report The Limits to Growth sponsored by the Club of Rome. Widely disbelieved at the time, today we recognize that the model used for the study had correctly identified the trends of the world’s economy.

The results of the study showed that the double burden of resource depletion and pollution would bring economic growth first to a halt and then cause it to collapse, probably at some moment during the first decades of the 21st century.

Even with very optimistic assumptions on the availability of natural resources and of new technologies the calculations show that the collapse could at best be postponed, but not avoided.

Many later studies confirmed these results: collapse turns out to be a typical feature of systems in overshoot, a phenomenon called sometimes the “Seneca Cliff” from a sentence of the ancient Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca.



Image above: Chart of the projections by the Club of Rome in March 1972 showing the projected " Limits to Growth". Note now in 2020 we have recently passed maximum food production and industrial output per person and are approaching maximum pollution as we slide down the steepest losses of resources. From (https://damnthematrix.wordpress.com/2012/04/11/so-much-for-debunking-the-club-of-rome/)

The coronavirus, in itself, is a minor perturbation, but the system is poised for collapse and the epidemics may trigger it. We already saw how the world’s economy is fragile: it nearly collapsed in 2008 under the relatively small perturbation of the crash of the subprime mortgage market.

At that time, it was possible to contain the damage but, today, the fragility of the system has not improved and the coronavirus may be a stronger perturbation.

The collapse of entire sectors of the economy, such as the tourism industry (more than 10% of the world’s gross product), is already ongoing and it may be impossible to stop it from spreading to other sectors.

So, what exactly is it going to happen to us? Since we started with mentioning a camel, we may also mention a famous statement by Shaykh Rāshid that we can summarize as, "My father rode a camel, I drive a Mercedes, my son will ride a camel." Might that sentence have been truly prophetic?

Indeed, the coming crisis might turn out to be so bad to push us back to the Middle Ages. But it is also true that all major epidemics in history have seen a robust rebound after the collapse.

Consider that, in the mid-14th century, the “black death” killed perhaps 40% of the population of Europe but, a century later, Europeans were discovering America and starting their attempt of conquering the world. It may be that the black death was instrumental in this rebound: the temporary reduction of the European population had freed the resources necessary for a new leap forward.

Could we see a similar rebound of our society in the future? Why not? After all, the coronavirus could be doing us a favor by forcing us to abandon the obsolete and polluting fossil fuels we use today. The current low market prices are the result of the contraction of the demand and are likely to be the straw that breaks the back of the oil industry. That will leave space for new and more efficient technologies.

Today, solar energy has become so cheap that it is possible to think of a society fully based on renewable energy. It won’t be easy, but recent studies show that it can be done.

That doesn’t mean that the near term collapse can be avoided. The transition to a new energy infrastructure will require enormous investments, impossible to find in a moment of economic contraction we expect for the near future.

But, in the long run, the transition is unavoidable and there is hope for a "Seneca rebound" toward a new society based on clean and renewable energy, no more plagued by the threats of depletion and climate change.

It will take time, but we can heal the poor camel’s back.

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A Way Down

SUBHEAD: There's a solution to global warming, energy crisis, loss of biosphere and over-population.

By Juan Wilson on 19 April 2020 for IslandBreath.org -
(https://islandbreath.blogspot.com/2020/04/a-way-down.html)


Image above: Up a tree? Your options are waiting to get rescued or climbing down. And I don't hear any sirens approaching. From (https://ui.uncc.edu/story/eastern-cottonwood-native-nc-tree).

My father became a practicing physician around 1950. For a while he had his office in our home in Levittown and did daily house calls and hospital visits. He delivered many babies and watched many people die. My sister, mother and I would hear details of these events at the dinner table.

I remember him using a phrase about dying that was "common knowledge" back then... "Pneumonia was the Old Peoples' Friend". That because if left untreated pneumonia causes  the patient to lapse into a state of reduced consciousness, slipping peacefully away in their sleep, thus giving a peaceful end to a period of often considerable suffering. Some would say an easy way out.

Well, the COVID-19 pandemic is having a two pronged impact on human civilization... basically ending it. It is causing a collapse of the energy, and resource consumption that is driving the destruction of the planet in the support of about seven billion too many people inhabiting the Earth today.

It's a place we have to climb down from... either voluntarily, by plan, or otherwise.

For much of my life my fear has been that the means would be a world-wide nuclear war involving untold thousands of atomic weapons being detonated in an exchange between America, Russia, China etc. Fortunately, that has not happened.

Nuclear armagedon would be much worse than the impact of COVID-19 to people and, more importantly, to all life on Earth.

Even without nuclear war we are on a track to destroy life on Earth. Our insane destruction of the biosphere in search of energy, resources and new places to "develop" have brought us in site of the end of the road for our species.... and many others.

A thinning of the heard is at hand. The reduction in human rapacity provided by the linkage of pandemic and economic collapse has cleared pollution from the skies over China. We could respond to our current predicament by abandoning "Economic Growth" as the "American Way of Life".

We could go back to small farms in local communities as it was before World War One. That was about the time we lost our connection to the land. Remember that 1919 song by Harry Fay, "How are You Going to Keep Them Down on the Farm?"
How you going to keep them down on the farm
After they've seen Paree?
How you going to keep them away from Broadway,
Jazzing around, painting the town?
How you going to keep them away from harm?
That's a mystery.
They'd wish they'd never seen a rake or plow,
So who the heck can parlez-vous a cow,
How you gonna keep them down on the farm,
After they've seen Paree?
Serious urbanization resulted from the coal and oil fueled economies that have flourished in the past century and a half. Since World War Two the mass production in automobiles fueled by cheap oil encouraged the surroundings of cities to be expanded with endless suburbs. Consumption became a stampede.

And here we are.  Sheltering in place and beginning to realize a new normal.

The only way out alive is to a more localized way of life.

It's time to climb down fro our dangerous perch to a changed landscape... to  grow food, make music!


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Fligfht Path

SUBHEAD: The “wealth” acquired  by “one-percenters” was loaded onto a defective Boeing 737.

By James Kunstler on 17 April 2020 for Clusterfuck Nation -
(https://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/flight-path/)


Image above: In 2013, a two-month-old Boeing 737-800, operated by LionAir, undershot the runway at Bali Airport, crashing into the water. Half the 108 passengers were injured. Luckily there were no fatalities. From (https://airwaysmag.com/industry/lion-air-boeing-737max8-crashes/).

This age of battling narratives tends to conceal the broken consensus behind it. What’s gone is a broad social agreement that there are certain fundamental realities, and then codes of conduct that follow from them. When anything goes, don’t expect people to do the right thing, or even know what it is.

The Covid-19 debacle presents just such a set of quandaries and puzzles. For many people stewing in quarantine, the virus is just another evil phantom lurking in the permanent twilight zone of television, and even there, among the familiar jabbering figments, there’s little agreement about it. The statistical projections mutate weekly.

 It’s no worse than any annual flu… It’s a savage illness that attacks every organ in the body, leaves survivors maimed, and you can even catch it again… The lockdowns are imperative… the lockdowns amount to economic suicide… There’s no sorting it all out, and the uncertainty itself is intolerable.

The only certainty is that most of the people in lockdown are going broke fast. By any ordinary rules, they are wiped out. They can’t even pretend anymore to keep juggling all those monthly payments for rent or mortgages, food, the cars, the medical insurance, the electricity, the cable, and on and on.

The $1200 mad money checks promised by Uncle Sam are little consolation for that, and the small business “loans” ­– if you can even jump through the infuriating hoops to get them – just pile on an additional layer of obligation in a lifetime of debt serfdom.

You don’t have to leap too many steps ahead mentally to imagine utter personal ruin on that glide path. And so what if millions of others are feeling squashed by the same phantom forces of disease and finance?

One firm reality is this: the global debt system that supported the turbo-charged global economy was disintegrating badly in the early fall of 2019, threatening every financial asset and the markets that affected to manage them ­­– and all the operations of modern daily life that they represented.

Nowhere on earth was the debt load more out-of-control than in China, where there were no constraints whatsoever on the banks’ accounting fraud, since they answered solely to the ruling party, which had but one overarching policy: to keep ruling.

And the biggest economic fiction of all was that China could maintain its supernatural growth rates in a world that had actually reached the limits of growth. Mr. Trump’s trade wars sent tremors through the system. A whole lot of bad loans were about to be flushed down the drain.

Banks everywhere else felt the vibrations, too, you may be sure. The Wuhan virus was, at least, a very convenient distraction from all that. And then, the darn thing got loose on countless airplane flights around the world.

The Covid-19 corona virus didn’t initiate the financial disorders of the moment in the US and Europe, but it ensured that there would not be another appearance of any “recovery” a la the central bank interventions of 2008-09.

What it portends is a fast-track journey to a whole new disposition of things: first, for a while, a harsher, hungrier, angrier society of broken promises and dashed expectations; and then adaptation when a consensus emerges that the set of facts at hand amount to a new reality. In the meantime, we’re living in the meantime, which is not a comfortable place.

Money is not an economy. Money is a medium of exchange within an economy where people grow things, make things, move things, and serve each other in countless ways. We’re not going to replace all those growings, makings, movings, and services by just giving people money.

Money may produce more money by the magic of compound interest, but money is not necessarily wealth, it just represents our ideas about wealth, and interest stops compounding anyway when the trend is clearly for reduced growings, makings, movings, and servicings. That’s exactly how and why capital vanishes.

The hocus-pocus of Modern Monetary Theory can only pretend to work around that reality.

The world never reached such a pitch of activity up to the blow-ups of 2008, and it went through the motions for a decade after that. Now that it’s stopped, all that’s left is the law of gravity, and it doesn’t get more basic.

The “wealth” acquired in the decade since by the so-called “one-percent” was loaded onto a defective aircraft, like a Boeing 737-MAX, and an awful lot of it will fall to earth now on broken wings. Their agents and praetorians on Wall Street are working feverishly to stave off that crash-landing, like a band of magicians casting spells on the ground while that big hunk of juddering metal augers earthward.

Wait for it as spring brings new life across the land and things unseen before steal onto the scene.

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End of Growth Nears

SUBHEAD: Pandemic response will require a Post-Growth economic thinking and action.

By Richard Heinberg on 10 April 2020 for Common Dreams -
(https://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/04/09/pandemic-response-requires-post-growth-economic-thinking)


Image above: Aerial view of polluted overcrowded Seoul, South Korea. Seoul is a major world city engaged in supporting a growth oriented economy. From (https://www.greenpeace.org/international/story/26506/the-end-of-infinite-growth/).

Amid a horrific human tragedy of sickness and death, much of it taking place in hospitals staffed by brave but overworked and under-equipped doctors and nurses, we are all learning once again what it feels like when economic growth comes to a shuddering stop and the economy goes into reverse—shrinking and consuming itself.

Millions have been thrown out of work, untold numbers of businesses shuttered. The St. Louis Federal Reserve estimates that Q2 unemployment could clock in as high as 32.1 percent (for comparison, unemployment at the depths of the Great Depression was 25 percent, and during the Great Recession of 2008-2010 it peaked at 10 percent)

Though radical measures must now be adopted to slow the spread of the coronavirus, those measures are having toxic side effects on the economy.

Yet, economic growth was bound to end at some point, with or without the virus. A few moments of critical thought confirm that the exponential expansion of the economy—whose physical processes inevitably entail extracting natural resources and dumping polluting wastes—is destined to reach limits, given the obvious and verifiable fact that we live on a finite planet.

However, we also happen to live in a human social world in which a decades-long spurt of economic and population growth, based on the snowballing exploitation of a finite supply of fossil fuels, has become normalized, so that world leaders have come to agree that growth can and must continue forever.

In response to this situation, clear-eyed systems and environmental scientists have, during the past few decades, proposed policies either to transition the global economy away from its near-suicidal requirement for infinite growth, or to cushion the impact when growth limits are finally reached.

At first, this post-growth train of thought was so marginalized by mainstream economists that few educated people were even aware of its existence. In other words, it lay entirely outside the Overton window of acceptable public discourse.

Then, in 2008, the wheels of the financial bus that we were all riding fell off, and there was an opening for discussion about different ways of organizing the economy. During the early recovery period after the global financial crisis, I presented a natural-limits-based view of economics in my book The End of Growth, in which I summarized heterodox policy proposals for getting society on a sustainable track without destroying livelihoods.

However, central banks and national governments managed temporarily to bail out the wizards and quants who had precipitated the crisis, restarted the growth machine, and thereby narrowed the Overton window once again.

Still, during the decade that followed, a seed of post-growth economic thinking was planted and began to sprout. In Europe, ecological economists and environmental activists organized “degrowth” conferences

The tiny nation of Bhutan, which had been experimenting since the 1970s with Gross National Happiness (GNH) as an alternative to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), tallied up its findings and argued at the United Nations that other countries should likewise aim for widespread social satisfaction rather than growth in monetary exchange.

Groups promoting public bankingmushroomed across the U.S., and articles about Modern Monetary Theory(MMT) and Universal Basic Income (UBI) appeared in major news outlets; the latter was even promoted by an early contender for the Democratic Party presidential nomination.

Still, the economic priesthood held tight to its dogma. Although it was patently illogical, the demand for endless growth continued to be defended using tortured reasoning and cherry-picked statistics. We can grow in green ways, the orthodox economists insisted—ways that don’t impact the environment. Well, it’s true that we can use resources more efficiently, we can recycle more, and we can find ways to reduce the toxicity of the wastes we produce.

But the fact remains: over time, a growing economy will eventually and inevitably take up more ecological space than one that does not grow.

Even the richest man in the world, who made his hundreds of billions of dollars from consumers, came to the conclusion that there are limits to energy and gains in efficiency, and that we face a future on this planet of limits. (He, less surprisingly, came to a different solution than I and other “limits to growthers” would offer, his being that we should harvest the moon and colonize space.)

Now, the coronavirus pandemic has seismically shifted the discussion once again. The Overton window is broken and the wall that held it has caved in. Suddenly the first priority of world leaders is no longer economic growth; instead, it is public safety. Lives must be saved and health care systems salvaged regardless of the short-term hit to profits, employment, and investment returns.

This sea change in priorities requires entirely different thinking and policies—ones much more closely aligned with heterodox post-growth thinking than with pro-growth economic orthodoxy.

Here is a quick survey of the post-growth economic policies recently introduced by sustainability theorists, and a brief discussion of how and whether each is relevant to our new pandemic-obsessed moment.

Universal Basic Income (UBI)

UBI is a government plan for providing all citizens with a given sum of money, regardless of their income or employment status. The purpose is to prevent or reduce poverty and inequality. However, UBI would also be useful in a post-growth scenario. Suppose, for example, that a nation decided to lower its greenhouse gas emissions by restructuring its economy so as to substantially reduce energy usage and material throughput.

Eventually, many people could transition from jobs in airlines and other energy-intensive industries to become food producers and small-scale manufacturers within more localized economies (see below). But, over the short run, substantial numbers would be thrown out of work; how to avoid widespread economic hardship and social instability in the interim? Answer: UBI.

The U.S. federal government’s just-passed stimulus plan includes the equivalent of a nascent UBI: It mandates one-time cash payments of $1,200 for each adult and $500 per child. It also sets aside $367 billion to help small businesses and $500 billion for loans to larger industries. (The Fed is meanwhile buying corporate bonds and securities from hedge funds, to the tune of trillions, putting the Treasury on the hook for them.)

There is ongoing discussion among policy wonks about longer-term cash paymentsto individuals; if this indeed happens, the U.S. will be officially experimenting with UBI.

But where’s the money to come from? For the time being, it’s being conjured through a cozy arrangement between Congress and the Federal Reserve: Congress issues debt, which the Fed buys—without requirement for interest payments. This brings us to:

Modern Monetary Theory (MMT)


MMT says that monetarily sovereign countries like the U.S., U.K., Japan, and Canada are not limited by tax revenues or borrowing when it comes to federal government spending. They can create as much digital or paper money as they need, and are (or should be) the legal monopoly issuers of their currency. Therefore, they should be able to create and spend as much energy as needed to create full employment.

I must confess some skepticism with regard to MMT. It’s obvious how it would be useful in a crisis; but, over the longer term, if the money supply is growing faster than energy and materials, the result must be inflation.

 In fairness, Modern Monetary Theorists have given considerable thought to the problem of inflation, and have come up with ways of limiting it—such as by levying deficit-reducing taxes, during times of full employment, to reduce aggregate demand.

Yet, in my experience, most Modern Monetary Theorists follow conventional economists in mistakenly assuming that energy and natural resources are effectively infinite, rather than finite and depleting. By focusing just on employment, they miss the essential basis of all economic productivity.

In any case, a crisis is what we have: Governments and central banks are being forced to resort to a form of MMT because of a sudden, dramatic spike in unemployment. And, over the short term, money printing is an essential economic tonic.

However, over the longer term, the best outcome would be achieved if the current crisis forces economists to think anew about the nature of money itself—what it is, how it is created, and what are is social effects. Most economists still think of money as simply a medium of exchange, but it is better understood as storable, quantifiable, and transferrable social power.

Renegade economist Steve Keen points out that conventional economic theory does a surprisingly poor job of explaining money and debt. Alternative currency theorists like Thomas Greco do a much better job of it.

Ecological and biophysical economists—the vanguard of post-growth economists—go even further. They start with realistic assessments of finite energy sources and natural resources, then explore how economic systems could fairly harvest and distribute resources without depleting nature’s stores over time.

For starters, they propose taxing all financial transactionsand requiring banks to hold 100 percent reserves. They also tend to hold to the principle, first propounded by American economist Henry George (1839-1897), that each person should own what he or she creates, but that everything found in nature, most importantly land, should belong equally to all humanity.

Public Banks

Today most money is created by private banks through the process of issuing loans. Digital money is called into existence when a loan is granted; when the loan is repaid, that money vanishes. The problem is, interest must be paid on the loan, and the money needed to pay that interest isn’t created when the loan is issued. The borrower must earn or borrow money for interest payments from elsewhere.

As long as the overall economy is growing, that’s usually possible. But if the economy isn’t growing, defaults ensue. Lending slows to a dribble, with more money disappearing than is being created. That’s called a deflationary depression, and it’s something to be avoided if possible—though it’s an inevitable feature of debt-based economies in a finite world.

As a solution, why not create government-run public banks that loan money at no interest, at least in the cases of businesses that are operating for the public good? For example, if a state decided that it was in the public interest to promote renewable energy, its state bank could make zero-interest loans to solar installers.

Public banks have a long history, and operate in many nations. In the U.S., the prime example is the Bank of North Dakota, which partners with private banks to loan money to farmers, schools, and small businesses.

The idea of public banks is closely tied to MMT; think of public banks as MMT at the retail level. So far, the pandemic has not provoked wide interest in public banking; but, as the incipient recession deepens and lengthens, expect this to be a subject of increasing discussion.

Gross National Happiness (GNH)

In 1972, Bhutan’s 16-year-old King Jigme Singye Wangchuck used the phrase “Gross National Happiness” to describe the economy that would serve his country’s Buddhist-influenced culture. The label stuck, and soon the Centre for Bhutan Studies set out to develop a survey instrument to measure the Bhutanese people’s general sense of well-being. That survey instrument measures nine domains:
  • Time use
  • Living standards
  • Good governance
  • Psychological well-being
  • Community vitality
  • Culture
  • Health
  • Education
  • Ecology
Bhutan’s efforts to boost GNH have led to the banning of plastic bags and re-introduction of meditation into schools, as well as a “go-slow” approach toward the standard economic development pathway paved by costly infrastructure projects paid for with huge loans from international banks.

There’s nothing in the recent stimulus package that resembles GNH, but policy makers increasingly could be forced into considering something like it, out of necessity. As people are stuck at home for long periods, some are descending into loneliness and depression brought on by isolation; others are filling their time with art, music, home schooling, and gardening.

Leaders will eventually realize they must do something to discourage the former and encourage the latter. They may eventually conclude that gauging their success using GDP is pointless, and that directly measuring safety, health, and life satisfaction makes a lot more sense.

The Sharing Economy

The last time the U.S. suffered through an economic depression, in the 1930s, government economists and leaders of industry responded by creating a new economic paradigm—consumerism. Henceforth American citizens would be termed consumers, whose duty is to buy and discard products at an ever-accelerating rate so as to steadily increase overall employment levels, the size of the economy, returns on investments, and government tax revenues.

Two key strategies of consumerism were planned obsolescence, in which products were designed to have limited useful lifetimes, or to soon become aesthetically undesirable in comparison with new versions of the same product; and redundant consumption, in which individuals were encouraged through advertising to prefer owning their own products (such as cars and lawn mowers) rather than sharing them with family members, neighbors, or friends.

Unfortunately, while consumerism succeeded in overcoming the problem of overproduction (which was one of the causes of the Great Depression), it resulted in the steady ramping up of resource consumption.

At the same time, it had a negative impact on many people’s psychological health, as they spent more time viewing advertising messages and shopping, and less time engaging with family, friends, and nature.

The idea of the sharing economy took hold around the time of the Great Recession of 2008; it proposed a peer-to-peer (P2P) way of organizing the economy in which the sharing of goods and services is facilitated by community-based online platforms. Many pioneers of the sharing economy were motivated by the ecological ideal of reducing overall consumption levels.

Unfortunately, however, the sharing economy quickly became equated with the gig economy, and with ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft—which promised to eliminate the perceived need for everyone to own a car, and thereby reduce carbon emissions from transportation. Unfortunately, it turned out that Uber and Lyft generate more carbon emissions than the trips they displace, and aren’t always model employers.

Nevertheless, the original ideals of the sharing economy persist among advocates of the maker movement, collaborative consumption, the solidarity economy, open source software, transition towns, open government, and social enterprise—as well as bridging organizations like

Shareable, whose founder, Neal Gorenflo, has some ideas on why sharing is even more important during the pandemic, and how we could seize the current moment this as an opportunity to come together in cooperation and mutual aid even though we remain separated physically.

Green New Deal (GND)

GND proposals circulating in the U.S. prior to the pandemic aimed to provide 100 percent renewable energy in 10 to 20 years while supporting job retraining and aiding communities impacted by climate change.

Some proposals also included a carbon tax (often with a fee-and-dividend structure that would rebate funds to low-income people so they could afford more costly energy services), incentives for green investment, public banks, measures to re-regulate the financial system, and the first steps toward a global Marshall Plan.

While GND advocates seldom publicly acknowledge that economic growth is both ephemeral and antithetical to a livable environment, their proposals are nevertheless largely consistent with policy advice post-growth thinkers.

The coronavirus pandemic cuts both ways with regard to climate change. Emissions are down, because businesses are closed and people are staying home. But the transition to renewable energy has slowed to a crawl. If we’re to move to a post-carbon economy, we’ll need massive investment in post-carbon transportation, building heating, manufacturing, and agriculture.

President Trump has signaled he wants Congress to appropriate a couple of trillion dollars for infrastructure spending, but what he has in mind are subsidies for existing fossil fuel-dependent industries. MMT notwithstanding, the nation’s money pot is not bottomless. If we are to have a Green New Deal, it must come soon.

Resilience

We have made the world more economically efficient by lengthening supply chains to take advantage of the cheapest labor and raw materials anywhere they exist, and by minimizing inventories with just-in-time supply strategies; but the result has been a withering of resilience—the ability to recover and adapt to a crisis or disruption.

Post-growth thinkers tend to agree that the structural unsustainability of modern industrial economies has created a series of crises that are lined up to bite—from climate change to the threat of global pandemics. Therefore, preparing for the post-growth era requires building resilience—particularly at the community level.

Suddenly, in this moment of broken supply chains, and shortages of toilet paper, masks, and ventilators, the argument for resilience is easier to make: there are perfectly obvious reasons to shorten supply chains, and establish strategic stockpiles that are distributed locally. Trump’s ham-fisted attempt to renegotiate globalization via tariffs hardly counts as a step in that direction.

Unfortunately, because world leaders previously didn’t listen to resilience advocates sooner, we will all be paying a price for some time to come.

Localism

The lengthening of supply chains is the essence of globalization; if this has made us more vulnerable to crisis, then it stands to reason that we should re-localize some of our economic activity.

Post-growth thinkers have been advocating localism for decades. Naturally there are objections and questions: What about xenophobia? What about sharing knowledge and best practices across cultures?

What about global cooperation to meet global challenges like climate change? In answer, localists say we needn’t view the recovery of local knowledge, local culture, and local economic vitality as all-or-nothing. Think of it as the rebalancing of a system that has become lopsided and dangerously unstable.

Meanwhile, in nations like the United States, where national leadership during the pandemic is absent or inept, citizens are being forced into thinking and acting more locally. Localism can have either a welcoming or an exclusionary face; it’s up to us to choose. Fortunately, many people so far seem to be choosing to be neighborly.

The end of growth is painful. We had a foretaste of it in 2008, but the current crisis promises to be much worse. Our leaders are flying blind, just as they were during the Global Financial Crisis over a decade ago. We were unprepared for it, just as we were for the pandemic and the economic carnage that is accompanying it.

However, there are people who have been anticipating a moment like this for decades. If we are willing now to listen and learn from post-growth thinkers, the crisis and its aftermath can be a process of adaptation that leaves us more locally resilient, happier, and more connected.

That’s not to downplay the immensity of the task. Redesigning national economies in the midst of crisis is a challenge perhaps comparable to redesigning an airplane in mid-air, while attempting to make a safe landing.

Navigating the end of growth will require courage, new thinking, flexibility, and a willingness to make mistakes.

It’s understandable why, during “normal” times, people want to stick with what’s familiar. But we’re no longer in normal times. We are in a moment that requires us to undertake bold changes that have been put off for far too long.

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Weird Days

SUBHEAD: A list of some of the odd experiences of disasters in my lifetime.

By Juan Wilson on 15 April 2020 for Island Breath -
(https://islandbreath.blogspot.com/2020/04/weird-days.html)


Image above: Photo of garbage piled into street in Manhattan, NY, during 1968 garbage strike. From (https://accesscities.org/nycrfei-pilot-for-public-realm-refuse-and-recyclingsolutionsrequest-for-expressionsof-interest-rfei/).

These are weird days and they seem to be leading to a major reset of life on Earth. The lists below are calamities I have lived through or witnessed through media in my lifetime.

Personally Experienced
Cuban Missile Crisis 1962 (We thought World War 3 was at hand)
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuban_Missile_Crisis)

North East Blackout 1965 (lived in Boston. People thought WW3 had begun)
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northeast_blackout_of_1965)

NYC Garbage Strike 1968 (Lived in Lower East side. Garbage up past windows slid into streets)
(https://untappedcities.com/2015/02/11/today-in-nyc-history-the-great-garbage-strike-of-1968/)

OPEC Oil Embargo 1973 (A few people were shot to death for jumping long lines at gas stations)
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1973_oil_crisis)

Iran US Embassy Crisis 1979 (I lived in Iran 1975-76 and saw what preceded revolution)
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran_hostage_crisis)

Witnessed Through Mass Media
Exxon Valdis Oil Spill 1989 (Effects included the deaths as many as 250,000 seabirds)
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exxon_Valdez_oil_spill)

Bangladesh Cyclone 1991 (over 135,000 people killed) 
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1991_Bangladesh_cyclone)

World Trade Center Attack 2001 (over 2,700 people killed)
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/September_11_attacks)

Tohoku Earthquake & Tsunami 2011 (over 15,000 people killed)
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Tōhoku_earthquake_and_tsunami)

When you look at the numbers of fatalities the World Trade Center collapse was not nearly as lethal as the other disasters listed above. But maybe it was so traumatic for Americans because it was a disaster created by humans intentionally and involved a symbol of American prowess. It was also witnessed live in the streets of New York and by millions on television.

Simultaneously Experiencing
Corona Virus Pandemic 2020 & Worldwide Economic Collapse 2020

These current disasters are interrelated and will transform the world in ways that will be in Nature's interest and ultimately our human interest. It's past time for a reset.


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Covid19 Best Case Scenario

SUBHEAD: Imagining the aftermath of the pandemic and monetary collapse as a time of rebirth.

By Atossa Araxia Abrahamian on 20 March 2020 for the Nation -
(https://www.thenation.com/article/world/coronavirus-future-fiction/)


Image above: A view of optimism from a perspective of Islam. From (https://aboutislam.net/spirituality/be-optimistic-about-the-future-trust-in-allahs-plan/).

The virus made itself known in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December in the form of a respiratory illness not unlike pneumonia.

At first, no one knew quite where the disease had come from, but it seemed to touch workers at a wet market where exotic live animals were sold.

Before long, a 61-year-old man with preexisting health conditions died. He’d been a regular at the market, so they blamed the bats, then the pangolins, then the shoppers who procured these delicacies, and finally, just China.

Within weeks, the region was on lockdown, and flights were canceled.

But it was too late for containment. The virus had taken up residence in lungs and on fingertips, clothing and cardboard. Deterred only by soap and water, it traveled far and wide: to South Korea and Thailand, to Seattle and London.

One case was detected in the prophetically named French ski town of Contamines; a large outbreak occurred in Milan before spreading thick and fast throughout Italy. Hospital wards filled.

People panic-shopped for hand sanitizer and, bafflingly, toilet paper. On January 30, the World Health Organization declared the virus a public health emergency; six weeks later, it deemed the crisis a full-blown pandemic.

As winter gave way to spring, the virus crept into schools, cafés, subway cars, and nursing homes. Universities closed dorms and moved to conduct classes online. Remote work protocols were adopted. Service work dried up, dealing cab drivers and waiters and aestheticians an economic blow.

Children were told to stay home from school; parents were not told what to do with their children. But we are social creatures, unfit for long periods of solitude. When large gatherings were shut down, phone calls went unscreened and were even answered. People checked in. People cared.

As the plague spread, the human cost was staggering. Tens of thousands died. Millions more were sickened. It hit the elderly the hardest, as well as those with underlying conditions. The funeral industry boomed, as did the appeal of apocalyptic cults and slickly branded start-up religions.

Fortunately, children were mostly spared, and communities came together to make sure they caught up on their schoolwork in the absence of classrooms, courses, and teachers.

Facing anger, outrage, and grief from their citizens, governments realized that those who could not do their jobs remotely—not to mention those whose work had dried up–would be destitute if they did not receive significant aid.

So that’s what workers received: help, in the form of cash, food, and services. Means-testing went out the window. Work requirements were a joke. Debt payments and water bills and evictions were suspended, then canceled altogether.

Central banks enacted radical measures to stimulate the economy. There were no interest rates left to cut, so lending turned into giving.

No one asked where all the money was coming from, because everyone understood that this was where it had always come from. Some states actually ended up saving money: the happy result of all wars’ being put on hold thanks to a unanimous resolution in the UN Security Council.

Iran reached a détente with Israel after medical researchers banded together to develop a treatment that saved the life of millions, including former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The treatment prevented him from infecting his cellmates in his supermax prison; he ended up succumbing to a stroke.

All but a tiny number of inmates in the United States were released. State funerals for politicians who said they could pray their way out of becoming sick were broadcast online, but attended by no one.

Military contractors started churning out medical supplies; soldiers mobilized to build homes and hospitals; unemployed workers pledged to build small-scale local green infrastructure. Austerity became a distant nightmare of the past.

With the airline industry in shambles and industrial activity at a virtual standstill, carbon emissions dropped dramatically. Demand for oil dried up, too.

Endangered species, unaffected by the virus, began to proliferate. Bats were studied and revered for their immunity to this virus, and many others. Pangolins were never seen at the dinner table again.

Because of stringent precautionary measures and warmer temperatures, the virus did not hit African states as hard as Western ones—a small mercy that nonetheless pushed countries there to establish a continental health system, with the help of the World Health Organization and an interest-free grant from the World Trade Organization, which changed its mission statement entirely.

Instead of lending to economically ailing nations, it would pool funding and make debt-free development grants, reasoning it was the only way to avoid a market crash.

Refugees living in camps—in South America, Lebanon, Greece, and beyond—were rehoused in decent accommodations to cut back on the risk of spreading the infection. They helped with relief efforts, earning them the admiration of locals and helping them integrate in their new homes.

Under the crushing weight of an overburdened health care system, countries began recognizing each others’ medical licenses, easing visa restrictions on doctors and nurses from less affected regions to emigrate and offering high-quality health care to everyone, no questions asked.

People necessarily crossed fewer borders, but when they did, they were greeted with open arms.

The TSA stopped banning liquids on flights, beginning with 12-ounce containers of hand sanitizer. Scientists worked around the clock to develop vaccines; philanthropists poured money into the initiative, even though they would no longer receive tax breaks for their efforts.

As their daily lives were upended, reorganized, and reimagined by the demands of the pandemic and the community, workers around the world adjusted to their new rhythms.

In China, where the crisis began, months of lockdown gave way to blue skies and clean breezes. The smog had cleared—a result of massive factory shutdowns. The sun shone brighter. It was easier to breathe.

Young peopled wondered, Why couldn’t the air be so clean every day? Why did they have to choose?

Farmers even found their livestock thriving, and their crops growing better—a consequence of cleaner soil and water, as well as regulation by health authorities to prevent immunocompromization and animal-borne infections.

For office workers, as the months passed, they began to question the way they had been living before the virus. They missed human contact, but not their commutes.

They wanted to see their colleagues, though were relieved to shed the artifice of the nine-to-five, the endless meetings, the pretending to be busy at all hours of the day, the sad desk lunches and minute-counting.

They worked when they needed to, and stopped when it was over. They spent more time with their families and made bad music and bad art.

See also:
World After Covid-19 Pandemic 3/20/20
Island Breath: Is Corona Virus a Bioweapon 2/20/20
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