Emotional Callousness

SUBHEAD:It's a self-Inflicted injury. Without feeling, there is neither information nor motivation.  

By Clifford Dean Scholz on 4 May 2011 in Green Hand Initiative - (http://greenhandinitiative.blogspot.com/2011/05/self-inflicted-injury-of-emotional.html)

Image above: Deputy Director of IMF (left) passing the homeless. From (http://www.thejournal.ie/imf-head-passes-three-homeless-on-way-to-bailout-talks-2010-11/).
I’m drinking a cup of coffee right now, having boiled the water with natural gas. I’m not exactly sure where the fuel I used comes from, but my guess is that natural gas from various sources gets marketed and distributed together. Therefore as I enjoy my coffee this morning, people in shale gas states now may have combustible household tap water and carcinogenic bathroom showers as a thank you for my convenience.

One of the hazards of environmental inquiry is to see horrors like this hiding behind pretty much everything I do and much of what I own, right down to the cotton socks on my feet. My question today is: How did I get to be so callous about it? And what should be done?

My most recent answer to the first part of this quandary is this:
  • Step One is to see that I was born into a culture in which emotional callousness is a fundamental coping strategy.
  • Step Two is to notice that approaches to solving the basic problems of living, which would be unthinkable if we were not so callous, are then baked into successive generations of technology, social norms, and institutions.
  • Step Three (and it’s a short one) is seeing that it’s nearly impossible for an individual to live in a culture thus designed without also becoming callous.
  • Step Four puts the whole thing on wheels: as conditions get worse and nearly every aspect of our culture holds in its shadow some kind of hell, the motivators are in place for yet more callousness leading to yet greater violations of sensibility in a self-reinforcing feedback loo
So that explains a lot about how we got where we are and why it’s so difficult to change: we’re living a callous morality, and we’re doing it on a global scale. Callous corporate ruthlessness has been part of the mix since these entities were first invented. Ships bearing cargoes of slaves, tea, and spices started the ball rolling, then coal, petroleum, tobacco and “unsafe-at-any-speed” car companies came to rule; when talking about profits before people, it’s nothing new. Callous government has been with us even longer than callous corporations. Consequently, as these entities have come to dominate our lives, we have in response become callous as well. What’s also becoming apparent is that there are consequences to this trend, and that they are serious ones.

“It’s the law of the jungle! It’s a matter of survival!” I hear.

Yes, this is true. Cultures that are ruthlessly efficient in extracting resources and developing weapons have overrun and exterminated all others.

And now, I would argue, that game has played out. The idea that power naturally accrues to those who are most ruthless and myopic in the pursuit of their own short term gain, and that this is the best way to run human society, is about to hit a wall.

In the long run, callousness and consciousness do not support one another. Although a certain toughness is required of everyone to meet the rigors of life, the tolerance for and even idealization of loss of feeling is not compatible with any sustainable form of human intelligence, since loss of feeling is a kind of loss of consciousness. Because of this, callousness and power are also ultimately at odds with one another.

The emotional callousness currently endemic on the global corporate and political scene, as well as in our consumer culture, works a bit like leprosy. Contrary to popular belief, leprosy does not cause limbs to fall off. What happens is that the disease attacks the nerves, resulting in a loss of feeling. Without the conscious feedback loop of feeling and physical sensation, nearly constant unintentional self-inflicted injuries result. Chronic infection and continuous scarring further the process, until disfigurement and deformity occur.

I would argue that emotional callousness does pretty much the same thing, and although the inner disfigurement is more easily hidden, at least among others who are similarly afflicted and who thus have difficulty feeling what’s going on, the consequences of it are visible everywhere. I believe we are fooling ourselves in the often unexamined belief that loss of the feeling sense and the inner connection to reality it can provide would have any better practical outcomes for effective action in the world than loss of physical sensation does for the human body.

Of course, an unfeeling approach seems to work so well at first. Then again, so perhaps does heroin. However, the complications that loss of feelings so efficiently eliminates are, in fact, information. Feelings are an irreplaceable mechanism for inner guidance and course correction. To the extent that we allow ourselves to become callous, we lose the holistic perspective feelings would otherwise provide. So, while emotional callousness can be compared to a kind of numbness, it also results in a kind of blindness. Either way, depending on the degree of the emotional impairment, nearly constant unintentional self-inflicted injuries result.

If my supposition is correct, it seems likely that the erosion and deformity of the emotional potential of humanity would generate other self-reinforcing feedback loops. On an individual level, disfiguring inner pain often results in further retraction from the feeling sense that would reveal its true nature and extent. The typical judgment is that it is simply too much. On aggregate, social pressures mount not to feel much, since one person’s emotions are likely to trigger and thus reveal another’s. Fortunately, we have the distractions, drugs, and prisons to handle it, or we wait until body systems fail under the stress and then treat the problem in the form of diseases. A rather reliable indicator of numbness is the level of stimulation required to generate a response. Here our culture seems to up the ante with every passing year.

News flash: Callousness, glamorized by many images in the media as strong and “macho,” is actually form of cowardice. To choose to be unfeeling on a consistent basis is to choose unconsciousness and death. When the people of a nation governed by democratic institutions embrace callousness as a coping strategy, that nation will be led by those who mirror this tendency. In time, and often rather quickly, leaders who embody callousness as an ideal will destroy their nations. The law of leprous self-inflicted injury will work systemically to debilitate the nation and its capacity to respond effectively to emerging conditions. This is exactly what we’re seeing. If we cannot change course at this moment, it is because not enough people can feel what’s going on. Without feeling, there is neither information nor motivation.

So, it’s not resource depletion, peak oil, climate change, rising population, corporatocracy or environmental devastation that will be the cause of our demise. Nor is the problem a political stalemate or the stranded costs of our investments in useless, outmoded or destructive technology. These are the not the problems, really: they are the symptoms.

Our callousness plays a causal role here, empowering all of these immanent threats to humanity. Change that and we start to change everything. And the beautiful thing is, we can change that. We can begin right now by bravely choosing a path of feeling, promoting values and institutions that are consistent with the development of feeling, loudly and clearly proclaiming ourselves to be people of feeling, and recognizing that being a person of feeling requires living a life of profound integrity.

In consequence, as I continue my inner work to open the doors to the deeply informative world of feeling, I must also for example begin to divest myself my participation in forms of agriculture that poison the land and abuse those who work it, and I must shift away from forms of transportation that ruin the air and pollute land and sea. The reason is, as I open those inner doorways, I feel my connection with all of these things. As incrementally as necessary and always compassionately, a person of feeling is required to connect precisely where the callous approach to living would disconnect. This is how we heal the planet by healing ourselves, and this is also the wellspring from which we will draw our strength, our inspiration, and our motivation to continue our work in the world.


Possible Municipal Bond Failures

SUBHEAD: States are cutting off aid to their local governments which rely on them for over a third of their monies. By Christopher Palmeri on 4 May 2011 for Bloomberg News - (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-05-04/whitney-defends-her-prediction-of-hundreds-of-billions-in-muni-defaults.html) Image above: Meridith Whitney at the 2009 Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, CA. From (http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/121378/20110310/muni-bonds.htm). Meredith Whitney, the analyst who correctly predicted Citigroup Inc.’s 2008 dividend cut, defended her prediction of “hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth” of municipal-bond defaults. Whitney, 41, speaking today at the Milken Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, said local governments in states such as California, Nevada, Arizona and Florida that are dependent on the housing and construction industries for higher tax revenue would continue to struggle financially. “States have been spending at two-and-a-half times their tax receipts,” she said. “The states then are cutting off aid to their local governments which rely on them for over a third of their monies. The local municipalities have nowhere to go and their bias is to save their constituents before they save their bondholders.” Whitney, who heads New York-based Meredith Whitney Advisory Group LLC, told CBS Corp.’s “60 Minutes” on Dec. 19 that municipal-bond investors could “see 50 sizable defaults, 50 to 100 sizable defaults, more,” that “will amount to hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of defaults.” Her prediction accelerated the flight of investors from municipal-bond funds and a decline in bond prices. “There’s nothing controversial about that call, if you look at the numbers,” she said today, later adding: “This municipal issue, you can criticize me for anything you want, I’m numb to it, because I have more conviction on this than I’ve had on any single thing in my career.” Solomon Disagrees David Solomon, co-head of investment banking at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., speaking on the same panel as Whitney, said he disagreed. “I don’t think we’re doomed,” he said. “I’d be more balanced on it. Ultimately tax receipts will have to go up and there’s only one way to do that and that’s increase taxes. The U.S. economy is going to perform better over the next year or two than the general consensus.” Farm Belt states such as Iowa that are benefiting from rising agricultural prices and their logistics and transportation industries will see stronger growth than the rest of the nation, Whitney said. “There’s myriad ways of playing every industry and each county,” Whitney said, when asked where to invest. “There’s opportunity-rich scenarios in every state and every market.” Ea O Ka Aina: Muni Defaults in 2011 12/21/11 .

The Grass Isn't Greener

SUBHEAD: The lawn represents one of the largest misallocations of resources on the planet. By Rob Avis on 4 May 2011 in Verge Permaculture - (http://www.vergepermaculture.ca/blog/2011/05/04/grass-isnt-greener) Image above: Goats in a pasture. Making lawn the old fashioned way... by chewing them down. From (http://www.ars.usda.gov/Main/docs.htm?docid=8037). [Publisher's note: It was the pastoral landscape that introduced "lawn". If you have sheep or goats in flocks they cannot help buy produce "lawn" as they chew the landscape down to the nub. With a little care the pasture becomes a golf fairway. If you overcrowd the flock the landscape becomes rock and dirt.]

If you've been following permaculture in Calgary, then you've probably been hearing about Permablitz – the transformation of lawns into productive, abundant landscapes.

You may be thinking, why food? Why not lawns?

Obviously, the bright green, manicured lawn is a human invention - Mother Nature certainly doesn't use a lawnmower. So where did the grass lawn come from? Why do we work so hard to keep it green?

And why, after all this time, are we giving it up to plant other stuff?

Well, here's a little story about the trouble with lawns, how the lawn came to be, and why the Permablitz movement is outgrowing the out-moded lawn.

The History of the Lawn

The front lawn is an icon. It is a monoculture, a form that does not exist anywhere in nature. The lawn was developed in Britain in the 1800's, and became a statement of the upper class, indicating one had enough wealth to grow for beauty rather than food production. When wealthy Americans travelled to Europe in the early 1900's they saw these vast, “flawless” green areas and wanted to recreate them back home.

Replicating the lawn in North America turned out to be more daunting than expected, as there were no native grasses that would fit the bill. The U.S. Golf Association then set out to find grasses in Africa and Europe that would thrive here. Shortly after they established their desired grass mix, the lawnmover was invented, followed by the invention of the combustion engine. It became a social requirement to grow a monoculture instead of food on one's property for the first time in history when the American Garden Club stepped in and stated: “it is a citizen’s civic duty to grow a green front lawn”. Fast forward to the present, and North Americans currently spend over $30 billion1 a year maintaining a false “civic duty,”2 while much of our food is imported from out-of-country, at our expense.

Why Lawns are so Draining...

The lawn represents one of the largest misallocations of resources on the planet. In order to maintain the ideal lawn, we fight against nature, attempting to hold a completely alien landscape in stasis through the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and a great deal of work. Natural ecologies do not remain static. In fact, the only thing constant about an ecosystem is that it's constantly changing. This change is known as succession, the process whereby bare landscapes become stable, thriving forests over time.

To get an idea of the resources we drain in order to maintain our lawns, consider this:

In the United States, there are over 40 million acres of land planted to lawn, a figure approaching the 53 million acres planted last year to wheat. Since mowing one acre uses nearly 4 litres of fuel, the fuel consumption for cutting grass is astronomical. To mow all of this lawn just once uses over 160,000,000 million litres of fuel. This is enough fuel to drive a hummer 884,466,556 km or 22,070 times around the earth. What a complete waste of fossil energy!

It is estimated that close to 3 million tons3 of fossil-fuel-based fertilizer is used per year in order to keep our lawns green, and another 30 thousand tons of pesticides and herbicides are used to keep them in a monoculture state. Because these chemicals are water soluble, they end up in our rivers, lakes, streams and eventually our oceans. They end up in the water we use to irrigate farm crops, in the rivers and oceans where we catch fish, and ultimately back on our dinner plates. It is hardly surprising then, that our society's increasing use of toxic chemicals coincides so closely with our increasing rates of disease.

Finally, it's estimated that the lawn consumes between 30% and 60%4 of the North American water budget. In a world where water scarcity threatens our future, what are we doing pouring 30-60% of it on the grass just to make it greener?

What About Food?

The idea of swapping lawns for gardens becomes even more attractive when you look at our current food system.

On average, for every calorie of food we consume from the grocery store, 10 equivalent calories were used in the planting, fertilization, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, harvesting, processing, refrigeration, transport, and retail processes.

By replacing the lawn with a productive food system (like a food forest, annual vegetable garden, chicken coup or greenhouse) we immediately solve two problems: (i) eliminating the energy and toxins used to maintain the lawn and (ii) reducing the immense energy used to deliver food from the farms to our mouths.

Nevermind the community and social benefits of brining food production back into our neighbourhoods. Since growing a garden in our front yard we have met and connected with our neighbours more then ever before - whether we are hanging out in the front picking strawberries and raspberries, delivering extra produce next-door or answering questions for curious passerbys.

This makes urban food production one of the most radical things we can do as citizens to reduce our negative impact on the environment and improve our communities.

While I was writing this article, a friend of mine told me about a heated debate he'd had with someone with a master’s degree in urban food sheds. My friend was arguing that a city could supply the majority of the food needed to feed its citizens with the sheer amount of space wasted for lawns, while the master's graduate argued that it wasn't possible. I did the math, and this is what I found:

From above, there is a little over 40 million acres of lawn in the U.S. (per capita, Canada is on par), enough space to produce 76,160,000,000 kg of wheat, or 2.597 x 10^4 calories a year. This is enough food to feed 355 million people a 2000 calorie/day diet for one year. In short, on lawns alone, there's enough space to grow food for the entire population of the United States. Of course, if we were using diverse permaculture systems instead of a relatively unproductive monocrop wheat system, we could produce even more efficiently.

Lastly, an intensively managed vegetable garden can yield about $1/square foot in the value of its produce and this is equivalent to $43,560/acre. A conventional farm is lucky to make $300/acre, which is 143 times less productive than intensive vegetable gardening.

Productivity through patterned design

So how do we turn our resource-draining lawns into healthy, food-producing ecosystems? Well, if left up to her own devices, Mother Nature would sooner or later reclaim your lawn on her own. And so, in permaculture design, we look to nature for inspiration - after all, she has 3.8 billion years of experience. When we bring this inspiration into our designs, we get resilience, soil creation, animal habitat, clean water, climate stabilization, economic stability, healthy communities and abundance.

Healthy ecologies do not have little garden gnomes running around spraying chemicals, pulling weeds and complaining about pests - they self-regulate. We can design our yards to do the same thing. By observing interactions in nature and facilitating them, we help create systems where different elements work together. Using examples from nature, we can design our houses and gardens back into nature's network of self-regulating, self-regenerating systems. Just by understanding weather patterns and the physical properties of flowing water, we can effectively capture and store water for drinking, food production, and sanitation, without ever draining our vital city watershed. We can plant mutually beneficial plants that control each other's pests, balance each other's soil nutrients, and, of course, feed ourselves.

By transforming your lawn using permaculture design, you can eliminate the huge drainage of time, resources and energy it takes to maintain it. You can produce much of your own food for very little work, eliminating the social and environmental implications of its delivery, and save money.

What we have is a reinvention of that old phrase: the grass isn't greener on the other side of the fence.

For more information about Permablitzes, click here, connect with the Calgary Permablitz Network and stay tuned to our website for upcoming opportunities!


United We Kill

SUBHEAD: The death of bin Laden should give us pause to reflect, seriously about the misery we have caused. By Jon Letman on 5 May 2011 for Clear Sky Press - (http://clearskypress.blogspot.com/2011/05/united-we-kill.html) Image above: Excited crowd of young Americans in Washington DC in front of White House after hearing of the killing of Osama bin Laden. From original article. Since the announcement of Osama bin Laden's death late Sunday night, the country has been swept up in a frenzy of 9/11 flashbacks. Americans have reacted to bin Laden's killing with emotions ranging from shock and relief to satisfaction, skepticism and incredulity, but the most prominently emotion displayed, and the one that has received the most attention, is pure, unabashed joy. Not the joy of watching a child take her first step or the joy of creating something new and beautiful, but the dark, blood-stained joy of exacting revenge on a mass murderer. Americans were dealt bruising physical wounds and a deep psychological blow on September 11, 2001 and, for the last decade, have been on a constant drip of reminders of the attacks whose intensity ebbs and flows with time. But the elusiveness of 9/11's supreme perpetrator, has remained like a broken thorn under our skin, palpable but without relief. Most would say the spontaneous eruption of jubilation and glowing satisfaction, like the feeling of finally scratching a deep, nagging itch after enduring the pain for so long is only natural. But the celebratory flash mobs of fist-pumping youth draped in red, white and blue as they chanted "U-S-A! U-S-A!" and wild orgy of hyper-Americanness claimed to be patriotism rubbed more than a few Americans the wrong way. A Reuters photographer who was at the White House when Obama made the announcement described the scene outside later as deafening "like a sports stadium...like a carnival." Two days after bin Laden's death a Reuters video story titled "Bin Laden death boost for Obama" showed the president remain stony-faced and somber even as members of Congress rose to their feet and burst into applause when the president made a reference to bin Laden's killing. Clearly the president is not one of the "America - Fuck Yeah!" flag-wavers. This week he announced that the White House will not be releasing pictures of the dead al Qaeda leader because, as he put it, "we don't need to spike the football." Yet at the same time he has used bin Laden's killing to suggest this is a moment of "national unity" around which all Americans can and should rally together. "There is a pride in what this nation stands for and what we can achieve that runs far deeper than party, far deeper than politics," the president told members of Congress. But the suggestion that bin Laden's killing should be a sources of national unity is a cynical, cheap exploitation of American's weakness for displays of brute force, violence, killing, and militarism, presumably in order to gain some political capital at a time when Mr. Obama's presidency has been mired in the ugly stuff of reality: stubbornly high unemployment, rising gasoline prices, an economy that is wobbly at best and attacks from both the political right ("Where were you really born, Mr. Socialist?") and the left ("This isn't the change I was hoping for"). It is a sad reflection on both the state of the nation and the moral elasticity of the president that what Obama calls "national unity," if something we can all feel good about together is, in fact, a covert military incursion conducted behind the backs of a supposed ally (Pakistan) as a commando-style night raid and revenge killing -- a targeted assassination. Is this what draws Americans together: a blood-stained bedroom floor, the burnt wreckage of a helicopter littering bin Laden's walled courtyard, freshly killed men growing stiff in pools of blood, impounded orphans, a widow and a villain shot in the face and hastily dumped in the sea? If this is the true north to which the needle of our moral compass points, then we may as well throw away our compass -- we are clearly lost. It is unimaginably bleak commentary on our nation when, after more than a decade of increasing nastiness, divisive politics and a fraying social fabric, that in the year 2011, Americans seem to be most united only after a killing spree in Tuscon underscores our own tolerance for self-inflicted domestic gun violence or our president announces, albeit with more maturity than the last one, but all the same callous confidence in ourselves to mete out our own cowboy version of justice, united we stand. Ironically, only 48 hours before Obama announced the death of bin Laden, the people of Great Britain had found cause for unity in celebration of life in the marriage of a young prince and his bride. Cutting across Britain's highly stratified class system, people in the UK looked, for at least a day anyway, supremely united. Two days later, under the banner of revenge killing, Americans are told to unite. Along with this call for "national unity" in the long shadow of bin Laden's corpse, there is a clamor to somehow saddle at least a full decade's of war making, invasions, occupations, drone attacks, secret imprisonment, extraordinary rendition, torture, domestic and international surveillance, draconian and ineffective "security" measures, economically and socially harmful budget cuts and an unchallenged and ever-expanding misuse of Executive Powers to broaden existing wars while embarking on new ones, all to this vague thing we are told is all about "national security," "freedom," and "the defense of Democracy." It's as though the killing of bin Laden is supposed to be the Lucky Triple Seven jackpot that makes us all jump and hoot for joy after more than a decade of playing a losing game. Unfortunately, the machines are rigged and the house always wins. Bin Laden's death, no matter how happy or how ambivalent you may feel about it, is not the end of the game. Instead of being told that this is an event around which we should all "unite," the President should be reminding us this is no game at all -- it's about war and death and about acknowledging our own role in perpetuating the cycle of violence. Bin Laden executed a number of unimaginably wicked schemes which resulted in the cold-blooded murder of thousands of innocent people. He is not someone that merits defending or grief, but he is also not alone in employing wicked tactics to strike out as his enemy, innocents be damned, as he used any weapon at his disposal to inflict death and suffering. Hijacked airplanes, suicide belts, and roadside IEDs (improvised explosive devices) produce the same results as Tomahawk missiles, white phosphorous incendiary weapons and predator drones: dead people. The terror attacks executed by Osama bin Laden and subsequent ongoing wars which have ostensibly killed and maimed far more than bin Laden could have ever hoped for have created a self-perpetuating culture of death and killing. Bin Laden may have been America's "Enemy #1" and our highest profile target, but his death will not mark the end of any of the wars we have chosen to pursue in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and beyond. Killing one man, no matter how evil he may have been, is hardly reason for celebration and should not be the foundation on which we, as Americans, stand united. If anything, the news of the death of Osama bin Laden should give us pause to reflect, seriously and soberly about the misery we ourselves have caused, and continue to cause, not only to people in other nations, but to our own fellow citizens right here at home. Video above: "Celebration" on killing of bin Laden on ATV with flag and gun. From (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxVdU2eVYSg). .

Fall and Winter - The Movie

SUBHEAD: A documentary film about where we are going and what's just over the horizon. By Matt Anderson on 1 May 2011 for Fall & Winter Movie - (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/manderson/fall-and-winter-a-documentary-film) Image above: Still frame of tree house from movie. From (http://fallwintermovie.com/media/photo-gallery.html).

"Fall and Winter" is a documentary film which explores the origins of our global crisis - and the ingenious adaptations needed to survive the catastrophic transition we've entered.

Please watch our new extended teaser on our website: FallWinterMovie.com

A little over a year ago, a small group of us set out across the United States with a camera. Our intent was to interview a diverse group of people and investigate how we’ve ended up with such an overwhelming global crisis. We were deeply concerned about the many societal, technological and environmental catastrophes which we now face, and the connections between them. So we left from Los Angeles on a 15,000 mile voyage to see for ourselves how this crisis is effecting the country we live in, and hopefully learn what we can all do about it.

From our first interview onwards, we found ourselves completely shocked by the answers to our many questions. What began as exploratory journalism soon became a mission to understand and document as many dimensions of this crisis as possible... What is the health of the earth’s soil? What is the direct human toll of the Gulf oil disaster? How will our species have to adapt to survive the catastrophic transition we've set in motion?

This journey lead us everywhere from the clear cuts of Northern California to the Fishing communities on the Gulf coast, over the gaping crater of Bingham Canyon mine in Utah and into the industrial ruins of Detroit. Along the way we sought out people directly engaged in developing alternatives to our industrial civilization; a civilization which has pushed life on earth to the brink of collapse. From listening to a chorus of people fighting for truth, beauty and justice, we believe we have captured the essence of a new culture that is forming and will flourish in the seasons ahead.

Despite the great challenges we face as citizens of this planet, I am seriously encouraged by the vision and efforts of the people we’ve interviewed. Their work is more important than anything else I can recommend. Please help us finish this film so we can share these inspiring perspectives (and beautiful images) with you!

Your support is crucial. We have just completed filming, and now we need funds to pay for editing expenses and the assemblage a rough cut. The Kickstarter money will be used to buy an edit station, hard drives, process footage, record music for the film, pay for a sound mix and color correction.

For backers of this project, we are offering rewards directly from some of the individuals we've interviewed such as a Grow Biointensive workshop from John Jeavons and autographed books by Cousteau Society Marine Ecologist Richard Murphy.

On our website, FallWinterMovie.com you can watch a new extended trailer, learn more about our project and all of the people involved.

Please back our film if you can, and spread the word so we can finish this film as fast as possible!

And thank you to everyone who has supported our project thus far. To those who've given money and moral support, challenged us, inspired us, cooked us food from their garden, shared their homes and lives with us, we sincerely appreciate your support... We’re all in this together.

Guy McPherson, of Nature Bats Last (http://guymcpherson.com/2011/05/fall-winter-a-film-worth-supporting), says of "Fall and Winter":
"This film’s message is one of rebirth and renewal in the wake of the ongoing collapses of the industrial economy and the living planet.

Unfortunately, the documentary still requires funding to complete the project. If the film’s message resonates with you, as it does with me, please give until it hurts. Soon enough, those dollars won’t mean a thing."

To see extended trailer of film go to (http://fallwintermovie.com/media/ext-teaser.html). Or watch it on YouTube here. Video above: Extended trailer for Fall And Winter. From (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAVG-FrpabE). Below is a background video about the making of the film. Video above: About the documentary film "Fall and Winter". From (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/manderson/fall-and-winter-a-documentary-film). .

Tilapia farms hit on Environment

SUBHEAD: Maybe we all need to take up backyard aquaponics if we're going to keep eating this aquatic chicken. By Sami Glover on 5 April 2011 for TreeHugger - (http://www.treehugger.com/files/2011/05/tilapia-farming-environmental-impact.php) Image above: Recipe using factory raised tilapia. From (http://eatathomecooks.com/2009/08/tonys-tilapia.html). Some time ago John wrote about the environmental benefits and risks of a rise in tilapia farming. While their adaptability and relatively low position on the food chain suggested an advantage over other types of fish, there was also concern about tilapia as an invasive species. Anyone reading the New York times on Monday will have been given good reason to think twice about eating this "aquatic chicken".

The Astounding Growth of the Tilapia Market Exploring the flip side of tilapia, Elisabeth Rosenthal discusses the astoundingly rapid spread of this African native that may well have been the fish that Jesus was supposed to have fed the 5000 with. With Americans eating four times as many tilapia as a decade ago, there is reason to focus on the environmental impact of large-scale tilapia farming. In fact, says Rosenthal, it may be the very adaptability of the species that has lead to it becoming such an environmental nuisance:

Native to lakes in Africa, this versatile warm-water fish was deployed by many governments in poor tropical countries around the world in the second half of the 20th century to control weeds and mosquitoes in lakes and rivers. In a cistern or pond, a few fish yielded dietary protein. In retrospect, that global dispersal "maybe was not the best idea," said Aaron McNevin, a WWF biologist who is coordinating the development of standards for tilapia farms, because tilapia "is one of the most invasive species known and very hard to get rid of once they are established." Today, wild tilapia has squeezed out native species in lakes throughout the world with its aggressive breeding and feeding.

Farmed Tilapia Less Healthful than Wild Because farmed tilapia are fed a diet of cheap grains and soy, rather than plankton, plants and algae, they also contain less healthy fatty acids than their wild counterparts. This dietary difference, of course, also reduces some of the environmental benefits associated with tilapia's position on the food chain. (Although, as noted in my post on whether aquaponics is efficient, the laws of physics mean that farming cold-blooded, aquatic animals carries an inherent efficiency in terms of feed-to-yield ratios when compared to land-based animals.)

Not All Tilapia Farms Are Created Equal Rosenthal also points out that many of the tilapia farming techniques deployed in Asia and South America—the primary producers of tilapia for US consumers—would never be allowed in the US. Most notably, the growing of fish in large open cages in natural lakes, where escapes are commonplace and fish waste is becoming a major pollutant.

Seafood Watch encourages consumers to buy tilapia from American farmers as a best choice, with Latin American fish as a "good alternative, and Chinese fish being categorized as "to be avoided". Efforts are also underway by the fish farming industry to establish tougher environmental standards, most notably in the form of the fledgling Aquaculture Stewardship Association but for now, warns Rosenthal, "there's no tilapia equivalent of free-range chicken."

Maybe we all need to take up backyard aquaponics if we're going to keep eating this aquatic chicken.

More on Tilapia and Aquaculture Tilapia as Aquatic Chicken Invasive Tilapia Threatens Fiji's Natives Is Aquaponics Efficient?


Deep Green Resistance

SUBHEAD: Any social system based on the use of nonrenewable resources is by definition unsustainable.  

By Seven Stories Press on 5 May 2011 in ClimateStoryTellers -  

Image above: "Deep Green Forest" by Jordanka Taretz. From (http://www.imagekind.com/Deep-green-forest-art?IMID=a21bbdc7-043a-494e-92ad-1ce319b92dfb).

A black tern weighs barely two ounces. On bodily reserves less than a bag of M&Ms and wings that stretch to cover twelve inches, she’ll fly thousands of miles, searching for the wetlands that will harbor her young. And every year the journey gets longer as the wetlands are desiccated for human demands. Every year the tern, desperate and hungry, loses, while civilization, endless and sanguineous, wins. A polar bear should weigh 650 pounds. Her biological reserves may have to see her through nine long months of dark, denned gestation, and then lactation, giving up her dwindling stores to the needy mouths of her species’ future. In some areas, the female’s weight has dropped from 650 to 507 pounds.[1]

Meanwhile, the ice has evaporated like the wetlands. When she wakes, the waters will stretch impassably opened, and there is no Abrahamic god of bears to part them for her. The Aldabra snail should weigh something, but all that’s left to weigh are their skeletons, bits of orange and indigo shells. The snail has been declared not just extinct, but the first casualty of global warming. In dry periods, the snail hibernated.

The young of any species are always more vulnerable. In this case, the adults’ “reproductive success” was a “complete failure.”[2] In plain terms, the babies died and kept dying, and a species millions of years old is now a pile of shell fragments. We are living in a period of mass extinction. What is your personal carrying capacity for grief, rage, despair? The numbers stand at 120 species a day.[3]

That’s 50,000 a year. This culture is oblivious to their passing, entitled to their every last niche, and there is no roll call on the nightly news. We already have a name for the tsunami wave of extermination: the Holocene Extinction Event. There’s no asteroid this time, only human behavior, behavior that we could choose to stop. Adolph Eichman’s excuse was that no one told him that the concentration camps were wrong.

We’ve all seen the pictures of the drowning polar bears. Are we so ethically numb that we need to be told this is wrong? There are voices raised in concern, even anguish, at the plight of the earth, the rending of its species. “Only zero emissions can prevent a warmer planet,” one pair of climatologists declared.[4]

Or James Lovelock, originator of the Gaia hypothesis, who states bluntly that global warming has passed the tipping point, carbon offsetting is a joke, and that “individual lifestyle adjustments” are “a deluded fantasy."[5] It’s all true. And self–evident. “Simple living” should start with simple observation: if burning fossil fuels will kill the planet, then stop burning them. But that conclusion, in all its stark clarity, is not the one anyone’s drawing, from the policy makers to the environmental groups. When they start offering solutions is the exact moment when they stop telling the truth, inconvenient or otherwise. Google “global warming solutions.” The first paid sponsor, www.CampaignEarth.org, urges:
“No doom and gloom!! When was the last time depression got you really motivated? We’re here to inspire realistic action steps and stories of success.”
By “realistic” they don’t mean solutions that actually match the scale of the problem. They mean the usual consumer choices—cloth shopping bags, travel mugs, and misguided dietary advice—which will do exactly nothing to disrupt the troika of industrialization, capitalism, and patriarchy that is skinning the planet alive. But since these actions also won’t disrupt anyone’s life, they’re declared both realistic and a success. The next site offers the ever–crucial Global Warming Bracelets and, more importantly, Flip Flops. Polar bears everywhere are weeping with relief. The site’s Take Action page includes the usual buying light bulbs, inflating tires, filling dishwashers, shortening showers, and rearranging the deck chairs. The first non–commercial site is the Union of Concerned Scientists. As one might expect, there’s no explanation points but instead a statement that"
“The burning of fossil fuel (oil, coal, and natural gas) alone counts for about 75 percent of annual CO2 emissions.”
This is followed by a list of Five Sensible Steps. Step #1 is—no, not to stop burning fossil fuel—but “Make Better Cars and SUVs.” Never mind that the automobile itself is the pollution, with its demands—for space, for speed, for fuel—in complete opposition to the needs of both a viable human community and a living planet. Like all the others, the scientists refuse to call industrial civilization into question. We can have a living planet and the consumption that’s killing the planet, can’t we? The principle here is very simple.

As Derrick has written, “Any social system based on the use of nonrenewable resources is by definition unsustainable.” [6] By definition, nonrenewable means it will eventually run out. Once you’ve grasped that intellectual complexity, you can move on to the next level. “Any culture based on the nonrenewable use of renewable resources is just as unsustainable.” Trees are renewable. But if we use them faster than they can grow, the forest will turn to desert. Which is precisely what civilization has been doing for its 10,000 year campaign, running through soil, rivers, and forests as well as metal, coal, and oil.

 The oceans are almost dead, 90 percent of the large fish devoured, and the plankton populations are collapsing, populations which both feed the life of the oceans and create oxygen for the planet. What will we fill our lungs with when they are gone? The plastics with which that industrial civilization is replacing them? Because in parts of the Pacific, plastic outweighs plankton 48 to 1.[7]

Imagine your blood, your heart, crammed with toxic materials—not just chemicals but physical gunk—until there was ten times more of it than you. What metaphor would be adequate to the dying oceans? Cancer? Suffocation? Crucifixion? Meanwhile, the oceans don’t need our metaphors. They need action. They need industrial civilization to stop destroying and devouring; failing that, they need us to make it stop. Which is why we are writing this book. The truth is that this culture is insane.

When Derrick asks his audiences, “Does anyone here believe that our culture will undergo a voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of living?”—and he’s asked it for years, all around the country—no one says yes. That means that most people, or at least most people with a beating heart, have already done the math, added up the arrogance, sadism, stupidity, and denial, and reached the bottom line: a dead planet. Some of us carry that final sum like the weight of a corpse. For others, that conclusion turns the heart to a smoldering coal. But despair and rage have been declared unevolved and unclean, beneath the “spiritual warriors” who insist they will save the planet by “healing” themselves. How this activity will stop the release of carbon and the felling of forests is never actually explained.

The answer lies vaguely between being the change we wish to see and a hundredth monkey of hope, a monkey that is frankly more Christmas pony than actual possibility. Given that the culture of America is founded on individualism and awash in privilege, it’s no surprise that narcissism is the end result. The social upheavals of the 60s split along fault lines of responsibility and hedonism, of justice and selfishness, of sacrifice and entitlement.

What we are left with is an alternative culture that offers workshops on our “scarcity consciousness,” as if poverty were a state of mind and not a structural support of capitalism. This culture leaves us ill–prepared to face the crisis of planetary biocide that greets us daily with its own grim dawn.

The facts are not conducive to an open–hearted state of wonder. To confront the truth as adults, not as faux–children, requires an adult fortitude and courage, grounded in our adult responsibilities to the world. It requires those things because the situation is horrific and living with that knowledge will hurt. Meanwhile, I have been to workshops where global warming is treated as an opportunity for personal growth, and no one but me sees a problem with that. The alternative culture has encouraged a continuum that runs from the narcissistic to the sociopathic. Narcissists don’t change. As one set of experts puts it, “Typically, as narcissism is an ingrained personality trait, rather than a chemical imbalance, medication and therapy are not very effective in treating the disorder.”[8] Somewhere unarticulated, we all know that. And sociopaths can’t change.

We know that, too. Which is why no one raises a hand when Derrick asks whether the culture will voluntarily transition to a sustainable way of life. The word sustainable serves as an example of the worst tendencies of the alternative culture. The word has been reduced to the “Praise, Jesus!” of the eco–earnest. It’s a word where the corporate marketers, with their mediated upswell of green sentiment, meshes perfectly with the relentless denial of the privileged. It’s a word I can barely stand to use because it’s been so exsanguinated by the cheerleaders for the technotopic, consumer kingdom come. To doubt the vague promise now firmly embedded in the word - that we can have our cars, our corporations, our consumption, and our planet, too - is both treason and heresy to the emotional well-being of most progressives. But here’s the question:

Do we want to feel better or do we want to be effective? Are we sentimentalists or are we warriors?

Because this way of life—devouring, degrading, and insane—cannot continue. For “sustainable” to mean anything, we must embrace and then defend the bare truth: the planet is primary. The life–producing work of a million species are literally the earth, air, and water that we depend on. No human activity—not the vacuous, not the sublime—is worth more than that matrix. Neither, in the end, is any human life. If we use the word “sustainable” and don’t mean that, then we are liars of the worst sort: the kind who let atrocities happen while we stand by and do nothing. Even if it was theoretically possible to reach an individual or collective narcissist, it would take time. And time is precisely what the planet has run out of. Admitting that might be the exact moment that we step out of the cloying childishness and optimistic white–lite denial of so much of the left, and into our adult knowledge. And with all apologies to Yeats, in knowledge begins responsibilities. It’s to you grown–ups, the grieving and the raging, that we address this book.

Ninety–eight percent of the population will do nothing unless they are led, cajoled, or forced. If the structural determinants are in place for them to live their lives without doing damage—like if they’re hunter–gatherers with respected elders—then that’s what happens. If, on the other hand, the built environment has been arranged for cars, industrial schooling is mandatory, resisting war-taxes will land you in jail, food is only available through giant corporate enterprises selling giant corporate degradation, and misogynist pornography is only a click away 24/7, well, welcome to the nightmare. This culture is basically conducting a huge Milgram experiment with us, only the electric shocks aren’t fake—they’re killing off the planet, species by species. But wherever there is oppression there is resistance: that is true everywhere, forever.

The resistance is built body by body from the other two percent, from the stalwart, the brave, the determined, who are willing to stand against both power and social censure. It is our thesis that there will be no mass movement, not in time to save this planet our home. That two percent in other times has been able to shift both the cultural consciousness and the power structures toward justice: Margaret Mead’s small group of thoughtful, committed citizens. It’s valid to long for a movement, no matter how much we rationally know that we’re wishing on a star.

Theoretically, the human race as a whole could face our situation and make some decisions—tough decisions, but fair ones, that include an equitable distribution of both resources and justice, that respect and embrace the limits of our planet. But none of the institutions that govern our lives, from the economic to the religious, are on the side of justice or sustainability. Most of them, in fact, are violently on the side of capital–E Evil. And like with the individually destructive, these institutions could be forced to change. The history of every human rights struggle bears witness to how courage and sacrifice can dismantle power and injustice. It takes bravery and persistence, political intelligence and spiritual strength.

And it also takes time. If we had a thousand years, even a hundred years, building a movement to transform the dominant institutions around the globe would be the task before us. But the earth is running out of time. The western black rhinoceros is definitely out of time. So is the golden toad, the pygmy rabbit. No one is going to save this planet except us. So what are our options? The usual approach of long, slow institutional change has been foreclosed, and many of us know that. The default setting for environmentalists has become personal lifestyle “choices.”

This should have been predictable as it merges perfectly into the demands of capitalism, especially the condensed corporate version mediating our every impulse into their profit. But we can’t consume our way out of environmental collapse: consumption is the problem. We might be forgiven for initially accepting an exhortation to “simple living” as a solution to that consumption, especially as the major environmental organizations and the media have declared lifestyle change our First Commandment.

Have you accepted compact fluorescents as your personal savior? But lifestyle change is not a solution as it doesn’t address the root of the problem. As Derrick has pointed out elsewhere, even if every American took every single action suggested by Al Gore it would only reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 21 percent.[9] Aric tells a stark truth: even if through simple living and rigorous recycling you stopped your own average American’s annual one ton of garbage production, “your per capita share of the industrial waste produced in the U.S. is still almost 26 tons. That’s 37 times as much waste as you were able to save by eliminating a full one hundred percent of your personal waste.”[10] Industrialism itself is what has to stop. There is no kinder, greener version that will do the trick of leaving us a living planet.

In blunt terms, industrialization is a process of taking entire communities of living beings and turning them into commodities and dead zones. Could it be done more “efficiently”? Sure, we could use a little less fossil fuel, but it still ends in the same wastelands of land, water, and sky. We could stretch this endgame out another twenty years but the planet still dies. Trace every industrial artifact back to its source—which isn’t hard as they all leave trails of blood—and you find the same devastation: mining, clear cuts, dams, agriculture. And now tar sands, mountain top removal, windfarms (which might better be called dead bird and bat farms).

No amount of renewables is going to make up for the fossil fuel or change the nature of the extraction, both of which are prerequisites for this way of life. Neither fossil fuel nor extracted substances will ever be sustainable: by definition they will run out. And both getting them and using them are literally the destruction of the planet. Bringing a cloth shopping bag to the store, even if you walk there in your global warming flip flops, will not stop the tar sands. We have believed such ridiculous solutions because our perception has been blunted by some portion of denial and despair. And those are legitimate reactions.

I’m not persuading anyone out of them. The question is, do we want to develop a strategy to manage our emotional state or to save the planet? And we’ve believed in these lifestyle solutions because everyone around us insists they’re workable, a collective repeating mantra of “renewables, recycling” that has dulled us into belief. Like Eichmann, no one has told us that it’s wrong. Until now. So this is the moment when you will have to decide.

Do you want to be part of a serious effort to save this planet? Not a serious effort at collective delusion, not a serious effort to feel better, not a serious effort to save you and yours. But an actual strategy to stop the destruction of everything worth loving. If your answer feels as imperative as instinct, then you already know it’s long past time to fight. After that, the only question left is: how? And despite everything you’ve been told by the Eichmanns of despair, that question has an answer. They have insisted that there is no answer, but that’s the lie of cowards.

 Every system of power can be fought—they’re only human in the end, not supernatural, not sent by god. Industrial civilization is in fact more vulnerable than past empires, dependent as it is on such a fragile infrastructure of pipelines and overhead wires, on binary bits of data encoding its lifeblood of capital. If we would let ourselves think it, a workable strategy is obvious, and in fact is not very different from the actions of partisan resisters across history. So, will you think it—that one word: resistance?

Will you notice that they’ve come for our kin of polar bears and black terns, who are right now being herded into the cattle cars of industrial civilization? Will you join the others who are yearning to action? The train can be derailed, the tracks ripped up, the bridge blown down. There is no metaphor here, as any General Officer could tell us. There is a planet being murdered, and there are also targets that, if taken out relentlessly, could stop it. So think “resistance” with all your aching heart, a word that must become our promise to what is left of this planet. Gather the others: you already know them. The brave, smart, militant, and, most of all, serious, and together take aim. Do it carefully, but do it. Then fire for all your worth.  

[1] Mongabay.com, “Two-thirds of polar bears at risk”, September 2007. [2] Butler, Rhett A. “Climate Change Claims a Snail.” Mongabay.com. August 13, 2007. [3] Wilson, Edward O. The Future of Life. New York: Vintage, 1992, p. 74. See also Olson, Dan. “Species Extinction Rate Speeding Up.” Minnesota Public Radio, February 1, 2005. [4] Ravilious, Kate. “Only Zero Emissions Can Prevent a Warmer Planet.” New Scientist, February 29, 2008. [5] Aitkenhead, Decca. “Enjoy Life While You Can.” The Guardian, March 1, 2008. [6] Jensen, Derrick. Endgame. New York: Seven Stories, 2006, p. 36. [7] Leber, Jessica. “Trash Course.” Audubon, November-December 2008. [8] Wikipedia Contributors, “Narcissism.” [9] Jensen, Derrick, and Stephanie McMillan.

 As the World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do To Stay in Denial. New York: Seven Stories, 2007, p. 15. [10] Jensen, Derrick, and Aric McBay. What We Leave Behind. New York: Seven Stories, 2008. [Note for readers: This essay is an excerpt from the book Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet - New York: Seven Stories Press, April 2011 - available at (http://www.amazon.com/Deep-Green-Resistance-Strategy-Planet/dp/1583229299). We’d like to thank the authors (Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith and Aric McBay) and the publisher for preparing this excerpt for ClimateStoryTellers.org]  

• Activist, philosopher, teacher, and leading voice of uncompromising dissent, Derrick Jensen holds degrees in creative writing and mineral engineering physics. His books include What We Leave Behind with Aric McBay; Endgame volumes 1 and 2; As the World Burns with Stephanie McMillan; A Language Older Than Words; and The Culture of Make Believe. Derrick Jensen has been called the philosopher poet of the environmental movement and was named one of Utne Reader’s “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World”. Lierre Keith is a writer, small farmer, and radical feminist activist. She is the author of two novels, as well as The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability, which has been called “the most important ecological book of this generation.” She’s also been arrested six times. She lives in Humboldt County, California. Writer, activist, and small–scale organic farmer Aric McBay works to share information about community sufficiency and off–the–grid skills. He is the author of Peak Oil Survival: Preparation for Life after Gridcrash and What We Leave Behind with Derrick Jensen. He is creator of In the Wake: A Collective Manual–in–progress for Outliving Civilization.


The Down Side of Dependence

SUBHEAD: These are the kinds of steps that leave people in possession of a home, a garden, and a career doing something people need.  

By John Michael Greer on 4 May 2011 for The ArchDruid Report - (http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2011/05/downside-of-dependence.html)

Image above: Detail of poster advertising the Titanic. From (http://cgi.ebay.com/Titanic-Poster-New-York-Southampton-White-Star-Line-/350363050045).

 I’m not sure if last week’s Archdruid Report post hit a nerve [Part Three - Alternatives to Nihilism], or if thoughts similar to the ones I discussed there have been busy all by themselves stirring up nightmares in the deep places of our collective imagination, but it’s been fascinating to note how many blog posts over the past few days have taken issue with the core point my post raised. That point, for those who readers who are just joining us, is that using less – less energy, less resources, less stuff of every kind – is the hallmark of any serious response to the predicament facing industrial civilization. Typical of the responses, if that’s what they were, was a blog post by Forbes blogger Roger Kay.

It’s a clever post, to be sure, and Kay’s an engaging writer. He imagines beer yeast in a vat of wort – for those of you who aren’t yet initiated into the mysteries of brewing, that’s what you call the stuff that turns into beer before it turns into beer – faced with the inevitable problem that beer yeast face in a vat of wort: once the alcohol produced by their own life processes reaches a certain level, it poisons the yeast and they die.

 Kay goes on to imagine a yeast cell with a conscience, who decides not to consume the sugars in the wort, and points out that the only thing that results from the moral yeast’s decision is that the other, less scrupulous yeast cells eat all the sugar, and all the yeasts die anyway. His conclusion is that we might as well wallow in our fossil-fueled lifestyles while we can, since everyone else is going to do that anyway, and the only hope he offers is that technology might save us before the consequences hit.

George Monbiot, who’s carved out a niche for himself as the staff pseudo-environmentalist of The Guardian, had a blog post of his own on much the same theme. His argument is simply that most people in today’s industrial societies are not going to accept anything short of continued economic growth, and so a strategy based on using less is simply a waste of time.

 Like many people these days who worry about global warming, he dismisses the issues surrounding peak oil out of hand – the problem we face, he insists, is not that we have too little fossil fuel, but too much – and as evidence for this, he points to the recent announcement from the IEA that world production of petroleum peaked in 2006.

Since industrial civilization hasn’t collapsed yet, he tells us, peak oil clearly isn’t a problem. I suppose if you ignore drastic and worsening economic troubles in the world’s industrial nations, food riots and power shortages spreading across the Third World, and all the other symptoms of the rising spiral of peak-driven crisis now under way, you might be able to make that claim. Still, there’s a deeper illogic here.

 It’s an illogic that seems highly plausible to many people. That’s because the fallacy that forms the core of the argument made by Kay, Monbiot, and so many others is a common feature of today’s conventional wisdom. An alternative metaphor – one at least as familiar to the peak oil blogosphere as Roger Kay’s yeast – might help to clarify the nature of the failed logic they’re retailing. Imagine, then, that you’re on the proverbial ocean liner at sea, and it’s just hit the proverbial iceberg. Water is rising belowdecks and the deck is beginning to tilt, but nobody has drowned yet. Aware of the danger, you strap on a life preserver and head for the lifeboats.

As you leave your stateroom, though, the guy in the stateroom next to yours gives you an incredulous look. "Are you nuts?" he says. "If you leave the ship now, somebody else will just take your cabin, and get all the meals and drinks you’ve paid for!" Your fellow passenger in the metaphor, like Kay and Monbiot in the real world, has failed to notice a crucial fact about what’s happening: when a situation is unsustainable in the near term, the benefits that might be gained by clinging to it very often come with a prodigious cost, and the costs that have to be paid to abandon it very often come with considerable benefits.

 It’s far more pleasant to walk down to the cruise ship’s bar, order a couple of dry martinis, and sit there listening to the Muzak, to be sure, than it is to scramble into a lifeboat and huddle there on one of the thwarts as the waves toss you around, the spray soaks you, and the wind chills you to the bone. Two hours later, however, the passenger who went to the bar is a pallid corpse being gently nibbled by fishes, and the passenger who climbed into the lifeboat and put up with the seasickness and the spray is being hauled safely aboard the first freighter that happened to be close enough to answer the distress call. The metaphor can usefully be taken a little further, because it points up a useful way of looking at the equivalent situation in the real world.

As a passenger on board the ship, your relation to the ship is a relation of dependence. You depend on the integrity of the hull to keep you from drowning, on the fuel and engines to get you to your destination, on the food supply and the galley to keep you fed, and so on. That dependence has very real advantages, but it has a potentially drastic downside: if the systems you rely on should fail, and you don’t have an alternative, your dependence on them can kill you. It’s this downside of dependence that Kay and Monbiot miss completely.

Imagine, to approach the same argument from a different angle, that Kay’s yeast metaphor left out two crucial points. The first is that the yeast cells have choices other than either eating the sugar or not eating the sugar. They can, let’s say, evolve the capacity to live on starch rather than sugar. Starch isn’t as rich an energy source as sugar, and it’s harder and costlier in energy terms to digest, but (let’s say, for the sake of the metaphor) yeast who eat starch don’t produce alcohol and so don’t poison themselves. A yeast that evolves the ability to digest starch thus has to accept a far less lavish lifestyle involving a lot more work, but it’s an option that doesn’t result in guaranteed death.

The second point Kay’s metaphor left out is that the wort in the beer vat doesn’t actually contain that much sugar. The brewer, let’s say, didn’t do an adequate job of malting the barley, and so most of what’s in the wort is starch rather than sugar. As a result, the thing the yeast need to worry about isn’t poisoning themselves by the products of their own digestion; it’s starving to death when the sugar runs out. Given these two conditions, a yeast cell that shrugs and goes back to eating sugar, trusting that the Great Brewer in the Sky will dump more sugar into the wort before it starves, isn’t making a rational choice; it’s allowing the immediate benefits of a temporary abundance to blind it to the fact that the downside of depending on that abundance includes an early and miserable death.

That, pace George Monbiot, is more or less the situation we’re in right now. We have a small and very rapidly depleting supply of highly concentrated, easy-to use "sugar" – that is, petroleum, natural gas, and the better grades of coal – and a much larger supply of diffuse, difficult-to-use "starch" – that is, renewable energy sources such as sunlight and wind, along with diffuse nonrenewable sources such as low-grade coal, uranium ore, and the like.

 Industrial society has evolved to use sugar, and even its forays into the starch supply are dependent on using up a great deal of sugar to make starch into a sugar substitute – consider the vast amount of natural gas that’s burnt to process tar sands into ersatz petroleum, or the natural gas (used to produce electricity) and diesel fuel that goes into manufacturing, installing, and maintaining today’s gargantuan wind turbines. The coming of "peak sugar" has two implications for our modern industrial yeast.

First, it means that the increasing comsumption of sugar has reached the limits of supply; there’s still sugar left, but as we near the end of the bumpy plateau that ordinary stochastic noise imposes on the smooth theoretical arc of the Hubbert curve, we’re getting closer and closer to the point at which yeast start to die of hunger because there’s not enough sugar to go around.

Second, it means that trying to deal with that predicament by pursuing existing strategies – that is, by burning sugar to convert various kinds of starch into an edible form – is going to make the situation worse rather than better, because it’s going to decrease the supply of available sugar just as yeast cells begin to die for lack of it.

All this imposes a hard choice on the yeast cells that make up modern industrial civilization, collectively and as individuals. We know already what the collective decision has been – keep gobbling sugar and hope for the best – and though it might be possible to make a different choice collectively even this late in the game, the costs would be appalling and the political will to make such a decision clearly isn’t there.

What remains are decisions on the part of individual yeast cells to go along with the collective choice or not. Those who reject the collective choice face the hard work of evolving to feed on starch that hasn’t been converted into a sugar substitute, knowing that in doing so, they’re exchanging a lavish but temporary lifestyle for a more difficult but more enduring one. That latter choice is the one this blog has been advocating for most of a year now: using the proven appropriate-tech toolkit of the Seventies era to dramatically reduce individual, family, and community dependence on concentrated energy supplies, and make use of diffuse energy sources – primarily sunlight – that can be collected and used right where you are.

Most people in today’s industrial societies have shown no interest in considering that option; they’ve made the other choice, and seem to be sticking to it even as the downside of their dependence on a collapsing human ecology is beginning to become visible. Some may change their minds, but there’s another factor that has to be taken into account, the factor of time. One of the many comments I fielded on last week’s post pointed straight to that factor, though I don’t think the person who wrote the comment realized that.

According to his comment, he’s an unemployed union carpenter with thirty years of now-useless experience, who’s about to reach the end of his 99 weeks of unemployment benefits and become one of the growing mass of America’s economic nonpersons. His children are struggling with the same scenario. Wrapping insulation around his pipes, he pointed out, won’t fix the predicament he’s in. He’s quite right, if "fixing the predicament" means enabling him to return to what has been, until now, a normal American middle class existence.

Millions of Americans right now are finding themselves shut out of that existence, and few if any of them will ever find a way back into it. Over the years to come, more and more Americans will undergo the same profoundly unwelcome shift, until what used to be the normal middle class existence becomes a thing of the past for everybody.

That’s the inevitable shape of our future, because of the awkward fact I mentioned last week – there is no way to make a middle class American lifestyle sustainable – and its corollary, which is that if something can’t be made sustainable, it won’t be sustained. That doesn’t mean that we’re all going to move into cozy lifeboat ecovillages, or any of the other green-painted Levittowns that fill so much space in so many middle class fantasies today.

It means, rather, that in the decades ahead of us, something like half the American population will most likely end up in shantytowns on the model of Latin America’s favelas, without electricity, running water or sewers, caught up in a scramble for survival that many of them will inevitably lose. It means that most of the others will likely face a reduction in their standards of living to levels not too different from the one that the poorest Americans experience today, while the rich of that time, if they’re smart, ruthless, and lucky, may be able to scrape together some of the luxuries a middle class American family can count on today, and may even be able to hold onto them for a while.

Does the picture I’ve just painted seem unbelievable? It’s simply the equivalent of saying that the United States will become a Third World nation in the not too distant future. It’s also the equivalent of saying that the United States will undergo the usual pattern of severe economic contraction that’s a normal part of the decline and fall of an empire, or of a civilization.

Neither of those are improbable statements just now; it’s simply that most people shy away from thinking about the implications. What all this implies, in turn, is that those people who make the shift to a low-energy lifestyle in advance, before the sheer pressure of circumstances forces them to do so, will have options closed to those who cling to the unsustainable until it’s dragged out of their grip.

Those who downshift hard, fast, and soon, cutting their dependence on fossil fuels and the goods and services that fossil fuels make available, will have a much less difficult time paying off debts, finding the money to learn new skills, and navigating the challenging economic conditions of life in a near-bankrupt society.

Had the unemployed carpenter whose comment I mentioned above wrapped insulation around his pipes ten years ago, he’d have spent less money on energy for the last decade, and could have used that extra money to get ready for the hard times to come; had he wrapped his pipes, insulated his walls, slashed his energy bills, recognized the dependence of his income on a totally unsustainable housing bubble and gotten into a different if less lucrative line of work – and there were people who did these things at the time, and are doing them now – he’d likely be fine today.

 These are the kinds of steps that leave people in possession of a home, a garden, a career doing something people need or want badly enough to pay for even in a depression, and other desiderata of hard economic times. These are also the kinds of steps that make it easier for people to offer help to their families, friends, and neighbors, to teach vital skills to those who are willing to learn them, and preserve precious cultural legacies through the crises of the present to they can be handed on to the future.

That’s the payoff for living with less; it’s a lot easier to avoid getting trapped by the downside of dependence on a society moving steadily deeper into systems failure. These considerations aren’t the sort of thing you can expect to read in the pages of Forbes and The Guardian, to be sure. You’ll have a hard time, for that matter, finding them anywhere in our collective conversation about the future of industrial society. Even among those who haven’t tried to squirm away from the unwelcome realities of our present predicament, there seems to be a tendency to avoid talking about exactly what the landscape of the American future looks like.

It’s understandable; science fiction scenarios and apocalyptic fireworks are so much more exciting than the future of mass impoverishment, infrastructure breakdown, sociopolitical disintegration, and ragged population decline that the misguided choices of the last few decades have handed us.

It’s true, in other words, that huddling in a lifeboat, tossed by waves and soaked by spray, is no fun. It’s a lot less fun than sitting in a cruise ship bar chugging martinis, even if the reason why you’re chugging the martinis is that you’re trying to pretend not to notice that the deck is slowly tilting under your feet and the waves are a lot closer to the porthole than they used to be.

There’s every reason to think that a great many people will choose this latter option or, more precisely, that they have chosen it, and are continuing to reaffirm that choice – sometimes, like Kay and Monbiot, at the top of their lungs. Still, those aren’t the people for whom these posts are written, and I’m encouraged by the number of people who are making a different choice.


Monster of Our Own Making

SUBHEAD: It is time to concede that the mess that is Afghanistan is a result of our cynical uses of those people and their land for our purposes. By Robert Sheer on 4 April 2011 for Huffington Post - (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-scheer/a-monster-of-our-own-crea_b_857296.html) Image above: Detail of poster for original "Frankenstein" movie. From (http://www.allposters.com/-sp/Frankenstein-Posters_i2114261_.htm).

He was our kind of guy until he wasn't, an ally during the Cold War until he no longer served our purposes. The problem with Osama bin Laden was not that he was a fanatical holy warrior; we liked his kind just fine as long as the infidels he targeted were not us but Russians and the secular Afghans in power in Kabul whom the Soviets backed.

But when bin Laden turned against us, he morphed into a figure of evil incarnate, and now three decades after we first decided to use him and other imported Muslim zealots for our Cold War purposes, we feel cleansed by his death of any responsibility for his carnage. We may make mistakes but we are never in the wrong. USA! USA!

Kind of like when the CIA assigned the Mafia to assassinate Fidel Castro and the Mafiosi turned out to have their own agenda, or when Pentagon experts anointed the Catholic nutcase Ngo Dinh Diem as the George Washington of predominately Buddhist South Vietnam before they felt the need to execute him. A similar fate was suffered by Saddam Hussein, whose infamous Baghdad handshake with Donald Rumsfeld stamped him as our agent in the war to defeat the ayatollahs of Iran.

Awkward, I know, to point out that bin Laden was another of those monsters of our creation, one of those Muslim "freedom fighters" that President Ronald Reagan celebrated for having responded to the CIA's call to kill the Soviets in Afghanistan. That holy crusade against infidels was financed by Saudi Arabia and armed with U.S. weapons to oppose a secular Afghan government with Soviet backing but before Soviet troops had crossed the border. In short, it was an ill-fated and unjustifiable intervention by the U.S. into another nation's internal affairs.

Don't trust me on this one. Just read the 1996 memoir by former Carter administration security official and current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a book touted by its publisher as exposing "Carter's never-before-revealed covert support to Afghan mujahedeen -- six months before the Soviets invaded." This dismissal of the claimed Cold War excuse for the backing of the mujahedeen was acknowledged by President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who, when asked by the French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur if he regretted "having given arms and advice to future terrorists," answered that he did not: "What is most important to the history of the world? Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?"

That was said three years before some of those "stirred-up Muslims" like bin Laden and the alleged 9/11 plot mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed -- whom bin Laden financed, and whom he first met in Afghanistan when both were U.S.-backed fighters -- launched their deadly attacks on the United States. The cost of the American response to that assault has spiraled upward for a decade. A defense budget that the first President Bush had attempted to cut drastically because the Cold War was over was pushed to its highest peacetime level by the second President Bush and now with three wars under way equals the military expenditures of all of the world's other nations combined.

But while Libya and Iraq have oil to exploit, what will be the argument for continuing the interminable war in Afghanistan now that bin Laden is gone? White House national security experts had already conceded that there were fewer than a hundred scattered al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, and that these were incapable of mounting anti-U.S. attacks. Clearly, what remains of al-Qaeda is no longer based in Afghanistan, as the location of bin Laden's hiding place, in a military hub in Pakistan, demonstrated. Nor is there any indication that the Taliban we are fighting in Afghanistan are anything but homegrown fighters with motives and leadership far removed from the designs of the late bin Laden.

It is time to concede that the mess that is Afghanistan is a result of our cynical uses of those people and their land for purposes that have nothing to do with their needs or aspirations. Even if bin Laden had been killed in some forlorn cave in Afghanistan, it would not have made the case that he was using that country as a base. But the fact that he was in an area amply populated by the very Pakistani military and intelligence forces that we have armed, and that should have been able to easily nab him, gives the lie to the claim that Afghanistan is vital territory to be secured in what two administrations have now chosen to define as the war on terrorism.


The Corporate State Wins Again

SUBHEAD: These elites do not have a vision. They will continue to exploit the nation, the global economy and the ecosystem. By Chris Hedges on 25 April 2011 in Truthdig - (http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_corporate_state_wins_again_20110425) Image above: Wrestler John Bradshaw Layfield verbally abuses Mexican Rey Mysterio in ring. From (http://www.wrestlingwiththetruth.com/tag/john-bradshaw-layfield). When did our democracy die? When did it irrevocably transform itself into a lifeless farce and absurd political theater? When did the press, labor, universities and the Democratic Party—which once made piecemeal and incremental reform possible—wither and atrophy? When did reform through electoral politics become a form of magical thinking? When did the dead hand of the corporate state become unassailable? The body politic was mortally wounded during the long, slow strangulation of ideas and priorities during the Red Scare and the Cold War. Its bastard child, the war on terror, inherited the iconography and language of permanent war and fear. The battle against internal and external enemies became the excuse to funnel trillions in taxpayer funds and government resources to the war industry, curtail civil liberties and abandon social welfare. Skeptics, critics and dissenters were ridiculed and ignored. The FBI, Homeland Security and the CIA enforced ideological conformity. Debate over the expansion of empire became taboo. Secrecy, the anointing of specialized elites to run our affairs and the steady intrusion of the state into the private lives of citizens conditioned us to totalitarian practices. Sheldon Wolin points out in “Democracy Incorporated” that this configuration of corporate power, which he calls “inverted totalitarianism,” is not like “Mein Kampf” or “The Communist Manifesto,” the result of a premeditated plot. It grew, Wolin writes, from “a set of effects produced by actions or practices undertaken in ignorance of their lasting consequences.” Corporate capitalism—because it was trumpeted throughout the Cold War as a bulwark against communism—expanded with fewer and fewer government regulations and legal impediments. Capitalism was seen as an unalloyed good. It was not required to be socially responsible. Any impediment to its growth, whether in the form of trust-busting, union activity or regulation, was condemned as a step toward socialism and capitulation. Every corporation is a despotic fiefdom, a mini-dictatorship. And by the end Wal-Mart, Exxon Mobil and Goldman Sachs had grafted their totalitarian structures onto the state. The Cold War also bequeathed to us the species of the neoliberal. The neoliberal enthusiastically embraces “national security” as the highest good. The neoliberal—composed of the gullible and cynical careerists—parrots back the mantra of endless war and corporate capitalism as an inevitable form of human progress. Globalization, the neoliberal assures us, is the route to a worldwide utopia. Empire and war are vehicles for lofty human values. Greg Mortenson, the disgraced author of “Three Cups of Tea”, tapped into this formula. The deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents in Iraq or Afghanistan are ignored or dismissed as the cost of progress. We are bringing democracy to Iraq, liberating the women of Afghanistan, defying the evil clerics in Iran, ridding the world of terrorists and protecting Israel. Those who oppose us do not have legitimate grievances. They need to be educated. It is a fantasy. But to name our own evil is to be banished. We continue to talk about personalities—Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama—although the heads of state or elected officials in Congress have become largely irrelevant. Lobbyists write the bills. Lobbyists get them passed. Lobbyists make sure you get the money to be elected. And lobbyists employ you when you get out of office. Those who hold actual power are the tiny elite who manage the corporations. Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, in their book “Winner-Take-All Politics,” point out that the share of national income of the top 0.1 percent of Americans since 1974 has grown from 2.7 to 12.3 percent. One in six American workers may be without a job. Some 40 million Americans may live in poverty, with tens of millions more living in a category called “near poverty.” Six million people may be forced from their homes because of foreclosures and bank repossessions. But while the masses suffer, Goldman Sachs, one of the financial firms most responsible for the evaporation of $17 trillion in wages, savings and wealth of small investors and shareholders, is giddily handing out $17.5 billion in compensation to its managers, including $12.6 million to its CEO, Lloyd Blankfein. The massive redistribution of wealth, as Hacker and Pierson write, happened because lawmakers and public officials were, in essence, hired to permit it to happen. It was not a conspiracy. The process was transparent. It did not require the formation of a new political party or movement. It was the result of inertia by our political and intellectual class, which in the face of expanding corporate power found it personally profitable to facilitate it or look the other way. The armies of lobbyists, who write the legislation, bankroll political campaigns and disseminate propaganda, have been able to short-circuit the electorate. Hacker and Pierson pinpoint the administration of Jimmy Carter as the start of our descent, but I think it began long before with Woodrow Wilson, the ideology of permanent war and the capacity by public relations to manufacture consent. Empires die over such long stretches of time that the exact moment when terminal decline becomes irreversible is probably impossible to document. That we are at the end, however, is beyond dispute. The rhetoric of the Democratic Party and the neoliberals sustains the illusion of participatory democracy. The Democrats and their liberal apologists offer minor palliatives and a feel-your-pain language to mask the cruelty and goals of the corporate state. The reconfiguration of American society into a form of neofeudalism will be cemented into place whether it is delivered by Democrats, who are pushing us there at 60 miles an hour, or Republicans, who are barreling toward it at 100 miles an hour. Wolin writes, “By fostering an illusion among the powerless classes” that it can make their interests a priority, the Democratic Party “pacifies and thereby defines the style of an opposition party in an inverted totalitarian system.” The Democrats are always able to offer up a least-worst alternative while, in fact, doing little or nothing to thwart the march toward corporate collectivism. The systems of information, owned or dominated by corporations, keep the public entranced with celebrity meltdowns, gossip, trivia and entertainment. There are no national news or intellectual forums for genuine political discussion and debate. The talking heads on Fox or MSNBC or CNN spin and riff on the same inane statements by Sarah Palin or Donald Trump. They give us lavish updates on the foibles of a Mel Gibson or Charlie Sheen. And they provide venues for the powerful to speak directly to the masses. It is burlesque. It is not that the public does not want a good health care system, programs that provide employment, quality public education or an end to Wall Street’s looting of the U.S. Treasury. Most polls suggest Americans do. But it has become impossible for most citizens to find out what is happening in the centers of power. Television news celebrities dutifully present two opposing sides to every issue, although each side is usually lying. The viewer can believe whatever he or she wants to believe. Nothing is actually elucidated or explained. The sound bites by Republicans or Democrats are accepted at face value. And once the television lights are turned off, the politicians go back to the business of serving business. We live in a fragmented society. We are ignorant of what is being done to us. We are diverted by the absurd and political theater. We are afraid of terrorism, of losing our job and of carrying out acts of dissent. We are politically demobilized and paralyzed. We do not question the state religion of patriotic virtue, the war on terror or the military and security state. We are herded like sheep through airports by Homeland Security and, once we get through the metal detectors and body scanners, spontaneously applaud our men and women in uniform. As we become more insecure and afraid, we become more anxious. We are driven by fiercer and fiercer competition. We yearn for stability and protection. This is the genius of all systems of totalitarianism. The citizen’s highest hope finally becomes to be secure and left alone. Human history, rather than a chronicle of freedom and democracy, is characterized by ruthless domination. Our elites have done what all elites do. They have found sophisticated mechanisms to thwart popular aspirations, disenfranchise the working and increasingly the middle class, keep us passive and make us serve their interests. The brief democratic opening in our society in the early 20th century, made possible by radical movements, unions and a vigorous press, has again been shut tight. We were mesmerized by political charades, cheap consumerism and virtual hallucinations as we were ruthlessly stripped of power. The game is over. We lost. The corporate state will continue its inexorable advance until two-thirds of the nation is locked into a desperate, permanent underclass. Most Americans will struggle to make a living while the Blankfeins and our political elites wallow in the decadence and greed of the Forbidden City and Versailles. These elites do not have a vision. They know only one word—more. They will continue to exploit the nation, the global economy and the ecosystem. And they will use their money to hide in gated compounds when it all implodes. Do not expect them to take care of us when it starts to unravel. We will have to take care of ourselves. We will have to create small, monastic communities where we can sustain and feed ourselves. It will be up to us to keep alive the intellectual, moral and culture values the corporate state has attempted to snuff out. It is either that or become drones and serfs in a global, corporate dystopia. It is not much of a choice. But at least we still have one. Video above: Chris Hedges on "Empire of Illusion". From (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=dHle_turjes). .